Drenched in droplets of rain, we crossed a grand suspension bridge painted in red and climbed what felt like endless stairs to a Buddhist temple built into the mountainsides of Taroko. The Xiangde Temple trail, home to a boddhisvata statue that was eminent from miles away due to its grand stature, gold colored plating and peaceful presence left me feeling completely disconnected from the rattling noise present in large cities and synchronized with the nature surrounding me.
Taroko, located in the city of Hualien, happened to be my favorite city and it was due to the fact that it rained the whole time there. The rain in Taroko was captivating and alluring when combined with the scenic views present in the rivers, trails, temples, and mountains. This feeling of appreciation remained throughout my whole travel from city to city. We initially landed in the city of Taipei, which consisted of tall towers and endless traffic due to the busy streets filled with motor bikes and vehicles. To commemorate our arrival, Matt led us to a 7/11 where we had our first interaction with our evident non-fluency of the Mandarin language. This was to be expected but it felt strange when faced with the challenge; we had no understanding of the products we were purchasing. Thankfully we had Matt there, but I couldn’t help but think that this would be a challenge we would be faced with throughout our stay in Taiwan. This propelled us all to at least make an effort to learn the tongue of the locals.
From Taipei, we travelled to three distinct cities: Jiufen, Nan’ao and Tarako. Each city was unique in its own way, whether it was the food, the scenic locations or the dialects present. The locals in each city were notably kind and displayed the considerate nature that everyone told me I would experience in Taiwan. Throughout the travels, I did experience a few challenges such as the new experience of feeling humidity, mosquito bites, scrapes and other little things, but they were always quickly mediated by the ethereal scenery that each site had to offer and most importantly the smiles and meals shared with Matt and the cohort.
I have to emphasize how appreciative I am of our faculty mentor Matt and the friendships I have formed throughout our adventures, from Taipei, to the north, east coast, and now Kaohsiung. Being here with a team of fellow students as well as a mentor whom transitioned us very successfully into our research labs and the dormitories has made this experience less daunting. In a new environment, it’s always comforting to see familiar faces with whom you can share your experiences and build new memories.
Taiwan so far has been nothing short of great for me. I have experienced the warmth of the people, the beauty of the land and the rich culture this country has to offer. I am truly honored to be a part of the MHIRT program and I sincerely value this experience.
Word of advice: ointments to ward off bugs are vital to purchase especially during the cultural immersion travels. Also, you will be hiking, walking and biking so it would be helpful to exercise in advance.