A Mainlander’s first impressions of Taiwan

Our friend Rob is the only foreigner accompanying a group of Mainlanders from Nankai University on an academic/tourist trip to Taiwan. He’s blogging it all, and in this post writes about some of his Mainland Chinese classmates’ first impressions of Taiwanese people and society: “Yesterday when we were hiking back down a different mountain, we passed several people coming up who nodded and said hello. The first time this happened, we got no more than ten feet past them before Xuebin turned to me and said, with astonishment, “They don’t even know us! I can’t believe they’re saying hello!” It wasn’t an expression of distaste, but rather of amazement. How could ordinary people be so friendly, with no strings attached?”

And in a later post: “Xuebin then told me something extraordinary. Dr. Ma, the teacher, had apparently been approached by a representative from the Nankai University Marxism department, and asked to give a short lecture to the students assuring them that Taiwan isn’t nearly as nice as it seems. The clean streets and nice air and friendly people are all just illusions that were put on to impress mainland visitors. Actually, Taiwan is a very dark place that lacks the wisdom and enlightened guidance of the mainland government. Dr. Ma, appalled, declined. I was appalled, too. Who wouldn’t be?

“But that’s how deeply this visit has affected my mainland friends. None of them want to go back… Students have come here and, in large part, have seen what the mainland could have been. They’ve seen what a Chinese society is like when culture is preserved and people are free to read and discuss what they like.”

Happy Dragon Boat Festival 2011! Here’re some photos!

Today is the Dragon Boat Festival 端午节。Tianjin’s Dragon Boat festivities don’t even come close to what we saw in Taipei (though I did once see a dragon boat team bailing out their sinking dragon boat while trying to practice on the canal 卫津河), so if you want to see some dragon boat race pictures I suggest you take a peak at this gallery:

Dragon Boat Festival 2006

All our Dragon Boat stuff was written from Taipei:

Taibei underworld

(this is an old post from when we were teaching in Taiwan that never made it to the blog, but it’s kind of funny, so here it is.)

Funny (and slightly disturbing) experience today. A friend took us around to help with some errands that require Mandarin: wiring money, exchanging money, and getting vaccinations. We had to exchange several thousand dollars. He said the bank’s exchange rates weren’t that great today and he knew a better place to exchange the money.


So we went to this popular, busy shopping district kind of like a big outdoor mall. There was an eyewear store. Our friend walks in with two white people in tow and says in Mandarin to the lady at the counter, “I have $300,000 I need to exchange” (that’s about $9k US). A woman immediately goes to stand lookout at the store entrance. Two guys appear from the back as ‘security’ (later he told us they thought he’d said $3,000,000 – that’s $91k US!). They directed us to a set of stairs going down at the back of the store in the corner. Halfway down at the landing there was a big Chinese dragon relief covering the wall, just like in a kung-fu movie. In the basement there were several unmarked doors. A woman standing in one doorway pointed us to another door behind which was a cashier counter. Turns out their exchange rate was the same as the bank’s. I suggested we go back to the bank then, since it’s the same rate and, um, legal. So back up past the big dragon relief and out past the eyewear.

Apparently this sort of thing is like driving 8km over the speed limit back home, from the way he described it. And these places are everywhere (our friend knew of several just in that area). And, for those of you who may or may not be interested, if you ever needed to launder money, this is the place you’d go. Good to know!

Long Overdue Post – Yangmingshan Mountain

NOTE: This post should have been written almost a month ago now. I meant to write it within the first week after we visited Yangmingshan, but I was still feeling burned out about writing anything after finishing all of our stuff for grad school in December. However, that’s no excuse for it being almost a month late. :D Anyway, here it goes – better late than never, I hope!

The week of Jan. 14th – 21st was almost like a week long celebration for us. The 14th marked not only our one-year anniversary of being in Taiwan, but also my birthday. Joel made me breakfast and snuck out to the local wet market early in the morning to buy me a dozen gorgeous red roses. Later that night, we also ate lots of delicious food at our favorite all-you-can-eat hot pot and barbeque place with Yang Mama, Mingdaw, Zhi-ling, and John (our Canadian boss). We even tried barbequing some snails…though they turned out a little tough to chew…and very hard to pry out of the shells with chopsticks. :D

One of the coolest things we did that week was take a trip to the northern part of Taipei with our friends Charles and Angel. We drove up one of the mountains there, called Yangmingshan. About halfway up, we rolled the windows down to smell the fresh air. It was wonderful to be away from the traffic noises and exhaust fumes that fill the Taipei basin. The mountain was beautiful, but different from the forest covered mountains of New Hampshire and British Columbia. This mountain had only a few trees, but was covered instead with grasslands.

We got out of the car and took a short hike around the summit area. At some points, the grass was taller than Joel! It was pretty easy to imagine that we were walking through some kind of savannah and that we might encounter a lion stalking its way through the long grasses. But instead of lions, there are buffaloes that live in the grasslands of Cingtiangang. It was really beautiful. There were even several couples up there getting their wedding portraits done. Yangmingshan is also famous for its hot springs. After we finished exploring the grasslands, we drove to another part of the mountain that has sulphuric hot springs bubbling up from the ground. Apparently this mountain is an old volcano, though it is inactive now – except for the hot springs that bubble to the surface and the smell of sulfur that fills the air. This area looked totally different from the grasslands – more like the surface of the moon than the African plains.

We finished off the day with a great lunch at a restaurant that is partway down the mountain. They serve some of the wild mountain vegetables, which seem to have a sweeter flavour than those you might fight in the local market. We ate in a room of the restaurant that had old stone walls – on some areas you could see a light covering of moss growing. The atmosphere was amazing and the food tasted wonderful. However, the company of our friends, Angel and Charles) was the best part of the meal (and the whole day). We had a great time hanging out, laughing, joking, and practicing our Chinese on them. We’ve been blessed to have many great friends during our year in Taiwan, and even though it took me so long to write about our trip up to Yangmingshan with Charles and Angel, it was a day that we’ll remember for many years to come. :D

See more photos here!

Famous New Year’s Night Market

After vaccinations in the morning and teaching in the afternoon, Mingdaw took us out on a long planned night market trip. This particular night market – 迪化街夜市 – is called a 年貨大街 right now (I hope I got that right; don’t know how to translate it though) because it majors in Chinese New Year stuff – it’s where everyone goes to get their supplies, and it was probably the liveliest and funnest night market we’ve visited. One big bonus was that almost all the vendors offer free samples of whatever it is they’re selling. It was completely packed with people. I was having so much fun inflicting Mingdaw with my horrible Chinglish while sampling everything in sight that I forgot to take pictures of all of us together (argh!). But we had a great time. The picture of the lady on the left is for mom… she’s selling pi pa fruit, the stuff in that black Chinese cough syrup. I’m not sure what everything was that we ate, but it included jerky, dried fruit, cookies, hot sauce, dried minnows, various drinks (herbal, ginger, wine), dried squid, a special stuffed fried thing whose name is only in Taiwanese, wine sausage, candied strawberries on a stick, and dinner included some really tasty “thick ox tail soup.”

We had to cut our time short because 公主 got lost and left a voice mail saying she was returning to the parking lot early. Since Mingdaw had to pick up Shannon from work, we got out at the CKS Memorial Park and had a nice romantic walk before taking the MRT (subway) home. There are three buildings (National Concert Hall, National Theatre, and the CKS Memorial Hall), surrounded by a park with trees and ponds with big colourful fish, which we couldn’t really see because it was dark. But the paths are lit nicely for a walk after dark. Below are the Memorial Hall (with the moon, the streaky airplane, and Taipei 101) and the Concert Hall. I took these photos with a hand-held point-and-shoot camera on “Indoor” setting.

See a short 13 second video clip from the night market entrance here.

[Photo Gallery:] Taiwan’s Yangmingshan

Photos from a trip to Yangming Mountain with Angel and Charles! These mountains are covered in wild grass, and it was really beautiful. Like the beach, there were wedding couples having pictures taken. There’s also a sulfur hot spring nearby; it was kind of strange to be walking somewhere where all around you the ground has steam or boiling water bubbling up through the cracks.

You can read about today’s trip here:

Scroll down to read or write comments!

2007 Jan 16

[Photo Gallery:] Wulai Hot Springs, Taiwan

新年快乐! Happy New Year! For 06-07 nine of us went to Wulai, a resort town up in the mountains outside Taipei for some hot spring soakage and hiking. We had so much fun, and the area is really beautiful. In these photos you’ll see meals and food, hanging out in the room at night eating Christmas goodies and learning to play cards in a fun mixture of Mandarin and Chinglish, some hiking photos, big colourful fish, and the waterfall. And Joel in the hot springs with the guys.

You can read about this trip here:

You can also see a short video. Scroll down to read or write comments!