Sunday, October 31, 2010
A Trip To Taiwan
By Vijeth Mudalegundi
From the moment I got off the plane, I knew that the months of preparation paid off. For months, I had undergone a rigorous selection process involving interviews, essays, and applications. After being selected into the program even more stress was added by the packing and preparation, but all of that stress washed away after stepping on land in Taiwan. Most people would say it was because I was so tired and just wanted to be on land again, however this felt a little more exciting than just that. Taiwan, from the beginning, offered much to explore and visit. It offered all landscapes one could think of, including: mountains, beaches, hills, valleys, plains, and cities. Everything one could think of in an island that is the size of New Jersey.
Taipei, the city which I stayed for most of the trip, is one of the largest metropolises in the world. Here at a local high school, Xi Song Senior High School, I spent most of my time learning Chinese and the cultural aspects of Taiwan. By the end of my trip, I was able to explore all aspects of Taiwan, from its sights to its culture to its language, all in 6 weeks of adventure.
One of the greatest aspects of life in Taipei was the night life. One of the most well-known aspects of Taiwan’s night life is its night markets. These night markets are the places to buy discounted goods, all the way from clothes and shoes to toys and food. The closest night market to our hotel was Raohe St. Night Market. Most of the tourists, such as me, buy things from these places.
This is a great place to buy souvenirs and items for yourself. Above all, these night markets served rich food found nowhere else in Taiwan. My personal favorite is called Mong Gwo Bing (Translates to Mango Ice). Mong Gwo Bing is a dessert served with shaved ice, fresh mangoes, sugar, cream, and other fruits. The dessert is famously made in Taiwan and is recognized by tourists as one of the most interesting dishes Taiwan has to offer. Other smells that waft above your heads at night markets include stinky tofu, fried mushrooms, and a variety of other dishes. Many malls are built in Taipei city and all the most expensive places to shop in Taipei. However, you will get name brand shoes, clothes, and more. These malls closely resemble the American style of capitalism and consumerism. All of these great destinations are open throughout the night and are great places to visit. Many say New York City is the city that never sleeps but I believe Taipei has come up to challenge that title.
In the first week of my trip in Taiwan, the Alabama Mandarin Immersion Program funded an island round-trip to visits famous sights of Taiwan. During the first week, my travels took me from Taipei in the north down through the west coast to Kenting in the south and back up the east coast to return to Taipei. On our first day on the road we went to an aboriginal village near Sun Moon Lake. This village serves as a theme park for kids as well as an educational facility on the 14 aboriginal tribes currently living in Taiwan today. The park is located near Sun Moon Lake and is known for its two connected lake, one representing the sun and the other the moon. Every night throughout the week we would eat dinner at a traditional Taiwanese restaurant. The Taiwanese style was to sit around a common table and eat from several dishes given to everyone around the table. This banquet style meal was more than we could handle to eat but soon we developed the huge appetite that the Taiwanese have for food. The next day we traveled to the south coast of Taiwan to reach the city of Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan after Taipei. This city was located close to Kenting National Park. This park was built to protect the coral reefs of Taiwan and the lush forests located in the southern tip of Taiwan. We stayed in the area for 3 days exploring the reefs, snorkeling, hiking and laying on the beach. Taiwan’s southern coast offered plenty of entertainment and things to do. We concluded our around-the-island tour by traveling up the east coast visiting the highest mountain of Taiwan and spending time with newly found friends on the beach. The twenty students who came on this trip thoroughly enjoyed the first week, myself included.
Over the next five weeks the group of twenty students got to experience the most influential part of the Taiwanese culture, their language. We learnt Chinese in a different environment compared to the normal classes taken in regular high school. We were immersed in the language from the language classes we took, the night market visits, and times spent with our home stay family. The language didn’t come from one outlet but from many allowing us to pick up on the language with greater efficiency. One of the most beneficial experiences I had in Taiwan was with my assigned host brother. Alex Wang, a local 15 year old, and I built up a friendship from the connection the program. He and I often went to some of the local sights and saw many things we weren’t able to see otherwise. Spending time with his family at nights helped me more thoroughly understand the daily life of a Taiwanese and the home culture of someone in Taiwan. The Chinese we learnt left a lasting impression on me and will probably be a lasting memory for years to come. Other than Chinese classes, there were cultural classes in which we learnt Chinese sports, arts/crafts, and traditional cooking. The taekwondo experience taught by teachers in Taiwan was nothing like the years I took as a kid in Birmingham. The intricate moves taught in the classes surpassed the quality as taught in studios in the US. Taiwan overall was a wonderful experience that will not be forgotten.
At the end of the trip the friendships I made and the attachment I felt to the country increased my anxiety of leaving. However the experience I had gained by coming to Taiwan in the first place along with a touch of homesickness allowed me to board that plan home. My summer in Taiwan is an unforgettable experience. The experience and information I had gained could be used to improve myself and help me in the future. This summer was definitely one of the best summers for years to come.
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