I have said it once and I will say it again: I am having the time of my life in Taiwan. I am attending 成大 (National Cheng Kung University for us English speakers), a prestigious Taiwanese university, which is oftentimes ranked among the best of Asia. Last weekend, we drove about five hours north to reach Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. This says so much about the size of Taiwan: NCKU is located in Tainan City in the south of Taiwan while Taipei is as far north as you can go. You can drive across the island in less than half a day. Taiwan is so small they don't even need states.
We left really early on Saturday morning. The first thing we did when we arrived was visit Taipei 101, which was the tallest building in the world until 2010. The view from the top of the tower was more than worth the long hours on the bus. The picture above and first two pictures below were taken from the top floor. The second picture on the first column was taken from right below the tower. I unfortunately was not feeling very well that day, and somehow managed to forget to take a picture of the Taipei 101 tower silhouette. Thankfully, my flight back to the US leaves form Taipei, so I will have to make a detour before leaving if only to get that one picture. I'm convinced it would be worth the trouble.
Our time at the tower was cut short by complaints of starvation. After spending some time walking about half a kilometer off the ground, we walked to what must have been a neighboring Italian restaurant but at the time seemed like miles away. Although food turned out to be really tasty, the prices left me with a bitter taste. It took less than two weeks to get used to the price of food in Tainan: less than 2 USD a meal, 6 USD if you are feeling really fancy, and 10 USD if you are feeling extravagant. The food in Taipei was expensive by my new standards, yet definitely lower than what I am used to paying in the US. This brought back some major flashbacks to a call I made to my mom after returning to the US from Beijing:
Me: "They charged me $3 for a soda. I'm used to paying 1/6th of that. 1/6th!"
Mom: "Well, you are also at the airport..."
Me: "And the measly sandwich they gave me was like $9! $9!"
You get the idea. Anyway, I am certainly not looking forward to the going through that again.
After lunch, we headed to 象山 (Elephant Mountain), which is said to have some of the best views in Taipei. Because I was feeling so sick, I decided not to hike all the way up so as not to hold the rest of the group back. Instead, my language partner and I lagged behind them for a while, took a few photos, then made our way back to the hotel. I started to feel better on the way back, though I didn't really feel well until the next day. Regardless, we went out to the local night market to grab some dinner.
We were not impressed by 士林夜市 (Shilin Market) at first. It seemed like just a pretty small market to the side of a main street. However, it turned out to be at least as good as the one I had been to in Tainan, if not more so. We had delicious beef noodles for dinner, then walked around "window" shopping. Throughout the night I tried two things I had been to scared to try before: 臭豆腐 (stinky tofu) and 榴莲 (durian). I actually liked the tofu alright, and didn't even mind the smell too much. The durian, however, though not as stinky as expected, did not have a taste I enjoyed.
We went to a different market on Sunday, where I got to take a lot of other pictures. We basically just walked around for about an hour, went into a temple, tried some Chinese snacks, then met up with the rest of the group to walk by the river, 淡水河. It was nice to get some pictures of what markets look like in the daytime. We made it back to the hotel around five, then waited until everyone else got back. Right when we were boarding the bus, a sudden deluge fell down upon us. I had to go back inside to pack my camera and book to protect them from the rain. We did not make it back until really late that night, and we were all exhausted.
The bottom left picture above is from the subway, so you can see how nice and clean it is. If you drink or eat anything on the subway, you get charged about $250. I would say the system works out! The bottom right picture is of a beautiful Chinese-style hotel by where we stayed.
Delicious cookies we 试吃了 (sampled).
On left: the proper way to park bikes. On right: our room at a Youth Center, which turned out to be a lot nicer than it sounds.
In case you are wondering, the next blog will center on my experience with my weekend-long stay with a host family.