Taiwan Diaries: Freedom
Friday, 10 June 2022
Studying at National Cheng Kung University for the Spring Semester, 3rd Year Mandarin and Spanish student, Rosie Loyd, updates readers on her time so far in Tainan, Taiwan.
Finishing my isolation stint was a relief, to say the least. After 10 days stuck in a hotel where the only window was in the bathroom, followed by 7 more days with an element of freedom (we could go outside, but the rules were a little hazy), I was raring to explore Taiwan.
I attended classes in person for a week or so each day from 1 – 4pm before they were put back online due to rising Covid cases. At first, my coursemates and I were all a little disappointed, but the fact is, we are now so used to this style of learning having had most of our UK university experience online. It also means we can do the lessons from anywhere as long as we have a good Wi-Fi connection.
In the past few weeks, I’ve slowly adjusted to the Taiwanese way of life and learnt several key things along the way.
1. The heat is oppressive. Well, to be specific, it’s the humidity that is so intense. You cannot walk anywhere without physically being affected by it. Oh yes – you’ll also get some surprised looks if you tell people you have walked to get somewhere; not many locals walk, instead, they pile onto their scooters and whizz about. Having said this, last week we saw torrential rain for several days, and the temperature fell to about 19°C. Apparently, it had been 24°C back in the UK. The jeans and a jumper came out and all in all it was rather strange given that a couple of days later it was back up to 30°C.
2. Locals eat exceptionally early around here. When going for an afternoon stroll, we’ve noticed that many people eat their supper at around 5pm each day. Restaurants also shut at about 8pm. They probably think it’s just as strange that Europeans eat so late!
3. Baseball is a lot of fun. We’ve watched the Tainan Uni Lions play a couple of times at the Tainan Municipal Baseball Stadium and it is highly entertaining. Think loud music, lots of dance routines to learn, cheerleaders and a lot of jeering. Us ‘foreigners’, as we are referred to over here (外國人pronounced ‘wàiguó rén’, literally meaning ‘outside country people’), even got a shoutout from the man leading all of the dances. I’d highly recommend going to watch a baseball match in Taiwan if you ever get the chance!
4. Back to the topic of being called ‘foreigners’ – it’s quite a cultural difference when you think about it. Imagine if a bunch of Chinese or French people were sitting together in the UK and you singled them out and called them ‘foreigners. I’m not sure that would go down well in this woke climate of today…!
This past weekend, we put our tourist hats on and took the train to Kaohsiung, only about 30 minutes away. Kaohsiung has a very large port and a nice beach with black sand – we’d been craving the sea since the moment we felt the heat. What a moment that was to finally dive in! Aside from enjoying the very popular Cijin Sunset Beach Bar on Saturday evening (another place I’d recommend – great music, drinks and atmosphere), we hiked up to the top of Shoushan (壽山), a nature trail with a variety of plants, bugs and lots of monkeys! Rather exhausting in the heat, but it was definitely worth it. We stopped off at the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, and also visited the Liouhe Night Market.
Other sites we’ve visited include the Sicao Green Tunnel, where we hopped on a boat tour of some very overgrown mangroves, the National Literature Museum, Chimei Museum with British photographer Tim Walker’s V&A Exhibition, and the famous Hayashi Department Store.
All in all, Taiwan is proving to be a success! I’m loving the chance to finally speak Chinese in a ‘natural’ environment. We’ve found that the best speaking partners are taxi drivers. The majority are very friendly and love chatting with us 外國人, often calling us beautiful (漂亮 pronounced piàoliang) and mistaking us for Americans! Their driving might be questionable, especially when you spot that they’re driving barefoot, but we’re not too fussed as long as they are jolly!
Stay tuned for more updates.