Sunday, July 13, 2014

Maggie in Taiwan: Part Two

Hello again Asia on E Street Blog Readers,

I have just completed my third week of school here in Taipei and I am just over halfway done with my stay, so I thought it would be a good idea to write all of you about the various sights I have had the chance to see in and around Taipei as well as how classes have been going at ICLP.

First I’d like to tell you about two day trips I have had the chance to take over the last two weekends to smaller cities in the region around Taipei. The first trip I took was to Wulai and the second was to Yingge and Sanxia.

After an exhausting week and school, it can often be tempting to lounge around on the weekend taking it easy and staying cool inside. However, after our first weekend my roommate (who is conveniently attending Georgetown to get her Masters) and I were determined to go out and explore our beautiful surroundings. We decided to make the trek to Wulai. Deciding to go to Wulai was easy as it is famous for its riverside hot springs and clear, meandering river, as well as Taiwan aboriginal culture. We travelled to Wulai by first taking the metro to the end of the line and catching a bus from the metro station that took us directly to the little town, all in all it cost us just over 1$USD. After grabbing some street food on the touristy street, we hiked up to the Wulai waterfall. While the journey to the waterfall was incredibly hot and humid, it was completely worth it as the waterfall was gorgeous, plus, I am always taken aback by the luscious greenery of Taiwan.

Beautiful Wulai with a full river from all the rain!

Wulai waterfall
After seeing the waterfall we took a rickety train back down to the town and made our way to the hot springs and river! Its hard to convey the pure bliss the soak in the cool river brought us – after constantly being hot and doused in ones own sweat there is really nothing that can match the shock of cool water. After two weeks of tiresome school work, floating in the river surrounded by the amazing scenery was the most relaxed I have been since arriving in Taiwan. After cooling down in the river for a while, we decided to test out the hot springs, which turned out to be quite scorching. The best part about the hot springs, however, was probably the company of the older Taiwanese bathers and their determination to instruct us on how one should go about the hot spring experience. As I was slowly easing my way in I was informed that I could NOT sit on the side with just my legs in as that would not benefit my entire body – one must fully submerge their body in order to fully benefit from the spring, as they would say “its so good for the skin!” They also warned us (after swimming in the river) not to wiggle around too much in the river because fish would more likely bite you! After chatting a while with the other bathers about where we were from and where in Taipei we were studying, we decided to get out and head back to the town center to grab some food and begin our journey back to Taipei. Overall I would give this day trip a 10 out of 10 – it has hands down been my favorite excursion as it was not only interesting to see natural beauty and aboriginal culture, but it was incredibly relaxing.
The disneyland ride-eqsue train we took down the mountain from the waterfall -
it may or may not have been a death trap (though only moving about 10 miles an hour)
The friendly and informative Taiwanese bathers at the hot spring we soaked in
Today, we ventured to the towns of Yingge and Sanxia for our second day trip. We took the train from Taipei Main Station to Yingge, and again the fare did not even amount to 1US$! Yingge is famous for its ceramics production. Though ceramics have been produced in this city since the early 1800s, it was only until the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and WWII that the city became a large hub for all types of ceramic production. Now supposedly Yingge is the third largest ceramic production center in the world! Our first stop in Yingge was to the most AMAZING baozi shop. For those who don’t know, baozi are steamed buns stuff with meat, vegetables, or both. While I have had my fair share of baozi in Taiwan and the Mainland, I might be willing to say that those were the best pork baozi I have ever had (potentially good enough to warrant a second trip back). They were juicy and well flavored, simply delicious. We then went to the Yingge Ceramics Museum. This museum was free and was very well put together. Having spent more time on the Mainland, I am used to going to smaller towns with museums that are put together poorly with inadequately conserved artifacts. However, this museum was a) free, and b) well put together with really interesting new and old ceramic pieces. After the museum we headed to the “old street,” but because it was around 104°F and we were struggling to find a place to eat lunch we taxied over to the neighboring town of Sanxia.
The best baozi
One of the ceramic museum gems.
What this photo doesn't capture, though, is the classical music coming out of the center toilet. 
In Sanxia we visited the famous ‘Qingshui’ temple – a beautiful temple with intricately crafted designs both inside and out. One part about this temple I really appreciated was that you could go up stairs and get a close look at all the decorations and figures on the roof, which often you must strain to see from the ground. After the temple we found an air-conditioned place to eat some lunch on the “old street” and then strolled about with cool limeade. Over all Yingge and Sanxia were both enjoyable, however the heat really wore on me throughout the day and made it hard to appreciate all that we were seeing. Perhaps if it cools down as we near August (ha!) I will have to try to go back!

Me reppin' my GW hat at the Qingshui Temple in Sanxia
The scenery from the train - Taiwan is so lush!

So now that I have told you all the extracurricular activities I have had the opportunity to participate in, back to the main reason I am in Taiwan: learning Chinese! Despite perpetual issues with textbooks, classes have been going well and my Chinese is slowly improving (or so my teachers say). One of the parts of class that I have enjoyed the most in the past two weeks is that the lessons in the textbooks pertain to subjects I have had the chance to study in classes at GWU. For example, recently in my class “Talks on Chinese Culture” (TOCC for short – a staple of the ICLP program), lessons have discussed the impact of the West on Chinese culture and society in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which I studied in Dr. Shambaugh’s class “Politics and Foreign Policy of China;” while other lessons have pertained to Chinese Linguistics and the incredibly diversity of languages that can be considered “Chinese,” which I had the chance to explore last semester in Prof. Dong’s class “Chinese Linguistics.” I have really enjoyed reviewing topics that I have already studied in GW classrooms because it makes me feel as though I am making strides in my Chinese – I can, bit by bit, talk about significant, academic topics pertaining to China in Chinese! That being said – today my classmates and I accidentally ordered chicken’s feet at a restaurant despite thinking we were reading “cucumber.” So while I maybe making progress in my ability to discuss topics of societal and historical significance, I still experience some trouble completing everyday tasks in Chinese.

And with that, I sign off this post! Next weekend some of my friends/fellow ICLP students and I will be making a trip to the Peng Hu Islands (also knows as the Pescadores Islands) in the Taiwan Strait, so stay tune for updates on this upcoming adventure!

Maggie Wedeman

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