Thank you, Taiwan!

So it’s that time… ode to Taiwan time.  Unfortunately, it’s going to be a sleep-deprived last post since this 12-hour time difference has been much harder to adjust to when returning to America and dealing with classes and make-up work.  But still totally worth it! Well, whereas India was a life-changing experience, Taiwan was an enjoyable trip.  It’s definitely a country I could see myself living.  There are definitely aspects of Taiwan that seem more advanced than the US.  I had a slide in my SCALE-UP presentation about how in 1974, about 47% of American high school graduates went to college but in 2007, that fraction grew to 66% immediately enrolling in higher education.  I later learned that Taiwan went from 30% of high school graduates entering college immediately after high school in the 1970s to nearly 100% these days.  Lei Bao explained that the importance of higher education for the Chinese dates back to the Civil Service Examination era, where becoming literate and getting an education could literally raise your social status.  This high higher education rate is introducing some issues from the country because there’s been a slight decrease in the birth rate so that means they’ll have too many colleges and too many professors.  In the past, they’ve resisted letting too many foreigners attend school in Taiwan but they are going to have to decide if they want to close universities or let students in mainland China get educated in their country.  Taiwan too is struggling to compete with jobs being sent overseas- much of this trip helped me to realize how similar struggles and successes are, for people of various countries and backgrounds. Some safety precautions also impressed me- many buildings were equipped with “Fire escape slings” which I had never seen in the US, as a way to propel yourself away from a burning building.  They seemed advanced in safety in this respect, but then I learned seat-belts for every passenger in a car are just becoming mandatory in the coming weeks. So I’m going to miss a lot of things about Taiwan- from the pedestrian walkways with the animated, moonwalking green man who lets you know its ok to cross to bubble tea shops every block to the random performers outside.  But most of all, I’m going to miss the people I meet.  Such unparalleled generosity, hospitality, friendliness, thoughtfulness… there were multiple times I felt like a long-lost family member. So, thank you Taiwan!  I’m glad I got to tell you about this all-too-often-overlooked gem of a country.  (My suspicions were confirmed when I returned and was asked “How was Thailand?”  “How was China?”).  I’m hoping to get a fellowship to do 2 months of research in Asia this summer- keep your fingers crossed for me- I should find out in early March.  That would definitely be blog-worthy.  Until next time, may all of you be blessed with health, happiness and opportunities for your own little...

Having fun and learning things in Taipei airport

Having fun and learning things in Taipei airport

I didn’t think it was possible to have fun in an airport, especially for a bleary-eyed who had to wake up before the crack of dawn and is not looking forward to the next 20 hours of travel back to the real world.  But I was wrong!  Taipei airport was filled with amazing surprises.  Not only did they have a prayer room, children’s playground, relaxation lounge with waterfalls but they also had several exhibits.  I learned about the 14 aborigine tribes, in whom Taiwan takes great pride as the cultural center of their country’s heritage.  I learned about Alishan Mountain and enjoyed a calligraphy and painting exhibit.  The Chinese puppetry area was my favorite- they described the stereotypical character roles and how you would know who was who by the costumes.  In addition to describing the origins of this traditional art, they described modern performances that adapted the ancient art in a contemporary twist. Chinese Puppet exhibit at Taoyuan Airport Aborigine exhibit So that definitely brightened my morning and I took advantage of the chance to walk around as much as possible before eternity on a plane. APPROXIMATELY 4 HOURS LATER…             Japan’s airport is fun too!  Why don’t they have things like this in the US?  They have daybed type cozy arrangements so people can lie down between flights.  I also checked out the origami museum- absolutely mindblowing!  I’ll post pictures of a Cinderella scene made entirely out of paper.  Wow!  Well, I’ve get ready to hop on my plane to Michigan and re-gain the 11 hours lost in time zone differences as I travel through time and space!  My now-alligator skin is looking forward to coming home to moisturizer- hotels here don’t provide it (but they do give you toothbrushing kits!).  And of course, I can’t wait to get back in the pool. Origami Museum in Tokyo Airport- it’s almost all paper!             I’ll add pictures and post at least one more entry to summarize my experiences but thanks to everyone for reading!  I’ve had fun sharing my travels with you and hearing your feedback along the way.  Almost 1,000 page...

“Traditional Chinese New Year Dinner” with Professor Pao’s Family

“Traditional Chinese New Year Dinner” with Professor Pao’s Family

I’m staring out my deluxe room, extra-large window, taking advantage of my 11th floor lookout to watch the sporadic fireworks being light off and trying to make out the hard-to-hear voice over some loud speaker.  Taoyuan reminds me of an old school Las Vegas, with LED lights on steroids.  In general, Taiwan has more colorful signs hanging off the sides of shops and stores.  Taoyuan illuminates those signs with unnecessarily obnoxious flashing, whirring and blinking rainbow lights, projecting videos on TVs and billboards.  I’m not sure how much Las Vegas-like activity goes on here but I do know LED arrows for miles lead to an “I do” motel which was followed by an “Oh ya” motel a couple blocks later.  A place called “Forbidden City” had a big window with a living woman, provocatively sprawled on a chair. View out of my hotel window The “traditional Lunar New Year dinner with Professor Pao’s family” turned out slightly different than I expected.  I knew we were going to a restaurant because his mother didn’t want to cook for ten.  I didn’t realize it would be an Italian restaurant!  So it was interesting to see pizzas and pastas advertised on a menu written entirely in Chinese with orders taken by waitresses who didn’t speak English.  Especially when you are surrounded by Italian café décor with menu items written in English as decorations.  It’s kind of sad that the whole world seems to be moving away from traditions these days, especially in this instance since food is so important to Asians.  However, the most important part of the tradition is spending time with family.  And the family atmosphere was full of jubilant bantering and lots of laughing, something I could understand and enjoy despite mostly Chinese conversations. They reminded me the Superbowl is approaching rapidly.  I tried to disguise my complete obliviousness but the Superbowl on my radar is analogous to Chinese New Year on most American’s minds.  If it weren’t for the grocery stores selling chili and chips, I won’t even know it was happening.  Snoopy sister may not speak much English but she loves football and has perfected yelling “touchdown!” (she demonstrated and it was better than I could do, haha). New Year’s Eve dinner with Professor Pao’s family So very nice dinner and it ended in the traditional lucky money distribution.  It was very generous of Professor Pao to include me in this family tradition- so I got “hóngbāo” 討紅包 too!  I guess the Italian dinner should help me transition to a US state of mind.  I’ve already had to struggle not to put “happy new year!” on the bottom of e-mails I’ve been sending to Americans.  I anticipate that some Americans might look at me like I’m crazy if I continue to speak in the exaggerated pantomime that is helpful for communicating here. Speaking of a US state of mind, I’ve got to brace myself for a 5:30 AM shuttle tomorrow morning.  I probably should make an effort to contain the explosion of clothes erupting out of my suitcase.  Xīn nián kuài lè! 新年快樂! (Happy New...

Taipei night tour

Taipei night tour

            Just before dinner, I got picked up from my hotel for a Mongolian dinner and Taipei night tour.  It wasn’t a bad experience by any means but the crowds and cheesier-type attractions made me grateful that my trip was largely personalized tours by locals!  Anyway, first stop was dinner at Mongolian BBQ, aka tourist feeding hole.  Many tour buses came to this large buffet where you could eat unlimited prepared dishes, bring a meat, vegetable & noodle creation for the chefs to cook (like Fire & Ice in the US) or pick out things to cook in the table’s hot pot.  I enjoyed getting to know Felix, the tour guide and a family from the Philippines but this food… had room for improvement especially considering the quality of everything else I ate in this country.              After everyone ate, the first stop was the tourist-friendly Hui Xi Night Market.  It was a well-organized hallway of vendors that stood in stark contrast to the chaotic, jumbled, jam-packed Night Market that I went to back in Chia-yi.  As I mentioned in a prior entry, historically, this market was known for killing snakes (drinking their blood was supposed to make you strong) and prostitutes.  Today, there were several snakes in display cases but it was pretty tame.  When I saw all the foot and body massage businesses, suddenly all the rock-hard Taiwanese beds I’ve slept in made sense.  Perhaps the hotels and Universities conspire to support the masseuses! Entrance to Night Market Inside the tourist friendly night market             The Loushan (dragon) Temple was next and actually interesting.  The outside of the temple was completely covered in paper lanterns, which Felix says only happens a couple times of the year.  The main Buddhist figure is famous for surviving a WWII bombing, even though the rest of the temple was destroyed.  There were some tourists but also many people leaving offerings of food or flowers, while lighting incense so the smoke could bring their prayers to the gods (as the Chinese believe they can’t speak to the gods directly).  In the back, there was a Daoist temple with several deities, specialized for various needs- success in commerce, matchmaking, examinations and more.  I loved the offering of Choco-pies in front of this education deity.  In the below picture, you can see two Philippine women and me.  They loved taking pictures with me- I’m in more than a half a dozen of their family photos.  Every time, someone would say “Now we can take you home” and everyone would cheer “souvenir”!   I can’t imagine what they are going to say about me when they share these photos back home.  It’s kind of like the boy who videotaped my whole SCALE-UP talk on his cell-phone- is he going to listen to my talk on active learning as a late night lullaby before he goes to bed? With Philippine friends at Loushan Temple             The last stop was the Taipei 101 building so I enjoyed exploring that for a second time today.  I didn’t go to the top, because that was an additional charge and it was too foggy to see much anyway.  But it is the fastest elevator in the world (at least until 2014 when a Shanghai skyscraper should be completed and is planned to surpass that record).  They also have an impressive “damper” at the top to absorb extra wind and earthquake jiggles to protect the building.  They sell “damper baby” key chains and stuffed animals as a silly souvenir.   So that was the night tour- the Philippine family was sad to see me go, but they let out a jubilant cheer as I...

Coming full circle after visiting final Taipei attractions

Coming full circle after visiting final Taipei attractions

This trip is coming full circle- I’m spending the last night in the same Taoyaun hotel where Penny and I spent my first night in Taiwan.  Somehow I’ve upgraded to a deluxe room. I’m not really sure when or why I’m enjoying the last day of the Year of the Rabbit, sipping Oolong surrounded by extravagance.  According to Chinese astrologers, the upcoming Year of the Dragon isn’t supposed to be a good year for dragon babies, like me so I’ll live it up today. Definitely nicer than my room the first night! I decided to brave the rain during my last morning in Taipei to see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, one of the remaining top sites in the city.  As you can tell, the Taiwanese love their memorial halls… and now, I do too!  It’s obvious from these beautiful buildings that the Taiwanese value and treasure the arts.  Unfortunately, the rooms were locked which foiled my plan to find a magnet for Dad’s refrigerator collection.  I rushed out of my hotel this morning to make sure I could see everything and be packed by noon checkout time but I regretted not making time for my rain dance! Taiwan International Art Festival advertisement- toilets! However, the ornate architecture and meticulous gardens were well worth getting wet for.  Just past the entrance, there was a glass room with two toilets to advertise the upcoming International Arts Festival hosted by the city.  It didn’t make much sense to me and my new Hong Kong friends were equally confused.  One said that he still hasn’t figured out how to use these Western toilets.  I couldn’t fathom what was so hard to figure out but I told him the Asian hole-in-the-ground potties surpassed my mental capabilities (or maybe my Western sense of hygiene)!  Fortunately, I avoided using pit toilets this trip but more than once, I had to recover from the awkward-peek-into-a-stall-and-run-away when there were no Western options available. Ok, enough about toilets, I think the pictures for this place pretty much speak for themselves.  You can thank my Hong Kong friends for the excellent photography.  They offered to take more pictures of me when I visit them in Hong Kong (haha, I have no immediate plans but they love their home and really wanted me to see it).  They raved about the world-famous food, if you’re willing to brave the crowds and share tables with strangers. Afterwards, Professor Pao and his wife meet me at the hotel to take me out to lunch!  That was not the plan- I planning on skipping lunch to make room for tonight’s feast!  But miraculously all my jeans still fit (despite the fact that I look like a marshmallow in all my CKS Memorial Hall photos- that’s because I’m wearing three jackets), so I decided to take advantage of their culinary expertise for my last lunch in this country. They took me to a place in the train station, which is the second location of a very famous, very traditional restaurant.  No forks here!  I’m embarrassed to say, my chopstick skills can be less than elegant and although I try, my not-always-successful steadfast determination pains my Taiwanese friends sometimes and they try to find me flatware. This place is famous for their pan-friend, pork dumplings so we ordered those, a steamed vegetable dumpling,  “small rice” porridge, a mainland China New Year cake (they called it a cake but it’s a main dish with thick noodles), finger pancake and tofu soup.  All of it was delicious- I love how Taiwanese dishes typically are served in smaller, sharable portions so everyone can try things. I enjoyed one last walk through the Taipei train station with all the shops decorated for the holiday and selling specialty dishes.  I was amused by the Hello Kitty bakery and once again dumbfounded by the assortment of options- famous stores from Japan, Hong Kong and Europe.  Jennifier (Dr. Pao’s wife) had gotten a MBA from Ohio State but it currently studying hotel management.  I enjoyed hearing stories from their travels all over the world and stories from past New Years.  Tomorrow, consistent with tradition, they are reuniting with her family- and with an expected attendance of 40-50 people, they have to rent out a special space. I laughed when they told me about a year her family decided to spend the day sightseeing and they rented a whole tour bus for the ultimate family reunion extravaganza!  She wondered if my family did anything to celebrate the Lunar New Year- I said my Asian family from Providence College Asian Am made an attempt at celebrating, but I don’t think...

Taipei gardens and memorials

Taipei gardens and memorials

What a perfect afternoon!  Sally and her sister Emily didn’t know me at all before today but everything they showed me, I loved!  It was drizzly this morning so we drove by some sights- Ximengding teenage hangout-and-Japanese-culture-appreciate area, the Presidential Office Building and the City Gate. The first stop was Chiang Kai-shek Shilin Residence, a home for a past president built around 1950.  And apparently, my rain dance was successful because the weather cleared up and held out all afternoon.  I learned that Dwight Eisenhower and Roosevelt visited here at some point! Anyway, it didn’t look like much from the outside, and the main house was closed for the holiday but there was free admission to the sprawling grounds, probably some of the most gorgeous gardens I have ever visited.  Chinese gardens like this one, Western gardens, fish pond (I found a turtle), with an interesting insect decor theme throughout. Reminds me of Alice in Wonderland- caterpillar with bunny ears! I could have stayed there for hours but these ladies were on a mission to show me everything awesome!  So their legs may be little but they sure could move (Sally’s going to send me some pictures with them in it to share) and on to the next place!  But not before Emily’s son called wanting to speak to me so that was adorable.  He was only fourteen but his English was really good- Emily sends her kids to Australia in the summers to practice and it paid off. Next stop was the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.  This is a national level auditorium, symposium site with 20 exhibition halls.  We timed it perfectly to see the changing of the guard in front of the famous Dr. Sun.  My pictures came out terrible but I almost laughed out loud when the new guards settled frozen in place.  They have men who adjust the uniforms on the newly frozen soldiers to make sure they are presentable for the hour they’ll be standing guard. Apparently the random dancing and singing isn’t restricted to Chiaya.  The first video is a dizzying take and goofy narration of people who weren’t that impressive on camera.  And the second video is a group that’s a little more coordinated.  Outside the memorial hall were all these teenagers doing hip hop, next to old people practicing Tai Chi next to middle age people doing martial arts.  Crazy country but I love it! After that, we went to a Cantonese restaurant for Dim Sum for lunch near the City Center where there’s 7 huge department stores and all the fanciest shop.  Lunch was absolutely delicious- everything in the US that claims to be Dim Sum pales in comparison!  I enjoyed chatting with them- they wanted to gossip about boys and they said with my slim figure and beautiful blue eyes, I must have many boyfriends!  They told me stories about their honeymoons and their silly teenagers (their daughters love reading Twilight- I wasn’t sure how to describe the book series but as soon as I mimed vampire teeth, they knew exactly what I was talking about). Then, we explored the Xinyi District, by the City Hall.  It was amazing just to see all the New Year decorations and variety of top shops.  We went to the Taipei 101 building, didn’t go up because I’ll be there tonight but it was still something to see.  All the malls were connected by above-road walkways and on one, I found “Occupy Wallstreet” has spread to Taipei! Occupy Taipei Another one of my favorite stops was Taiwan’s largest book store- almost 25,000 square meters and six stories!  Eslite is open twenty-four hours a day and apparently people flock from all countries to see its over a million books, published in Mandarin, English, Japanese and European languages.  They had themed areas throughout and they had a whole floor for children.  On that floor, children could play with clay, paint pots, there were people taking painting classes… I could easily live there! After some scenic walking on the way back to the MRT station, they delivered me back to my hotel so I have time to relax before my night tour this evening.  I’m just so thankful to all the Taiwanese friends I made for speaking English for me, giving me great tours and general generosity in sharing wisdom and meals.  I’m going to miss all these people but I’m still trying to convince them to come to the US so I can return the...