Taiwan blog #1 – Bug Sprays and Pineapples

Having been abroad as an infant with only pictures to prove to myself that I had been to Vietnam and France, I would definitely consider this my first international trip. My only real worries and concerns that I had prior to departure were 1) the mosquitoes and 2) being mistaken for a local and not knowing an ounce of Mandarin. I was very relieved to know that the mosquitoes are not as bad as I thought they would be (only after showering myself in bug spray) and I have pretty much accepted that everyone here is going to assume that I am Taiwanese. At a restaurant my cohort and graduate students went to recently, this elderly man spoke English to the Taiwanese graduate student and Mandarin to me so that gives you an idea of how Taiwanese I come off as. One of the unique aspects of the Taiwan site is that our cohort had the opportunity to explore Taiwan during our first week here. We started off the week hiking the beautiful trails of Taroko National Park (here is where showering yourself in bug spray is a major power move). The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and was nothing like I have experienced before having grown up in very urban settings—it was great starting off our journey appreciating the natural beauties found in Taiwan. After Taroko, we took a train to Jiufen (which was probably my favorite city of the 3). Jiufen is a small town pretty much lodged into the cliffside of a mountain that reminded me much of Greece (except I’ve never been to Greece but it’s okay everything’s fine). We made it just in time to move all our things into our airbnb (which was amazing) and off we were into the night market. The night market had a lot of international travelers, lots of amazing food, and offered a beautiful view of Keelung Harbor. What made Jiufen so special for me was that the atmosphere was so relaxing and peaceful even though there was barely any space to take more than 2 steps at a time. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe so you just have to go there yourself! Our last destination was of course: Taipei. The first of the 2 days that we were in Taipei was spent in the National Palace Museum (which I believe Matt told us was the largest museum of ancient Chinese history). There are tons of great exhibits at the NPM but my favorites were definitely the augmented reality and jade exhibits. The augmented reality exhibit integrated modern technology with Chinese history to put a twist on how museums are typically viewed and interacted with which really stood out to me. The jade exhibit had impressive displays and it was really helpful that every piece had an English translation. With our Taiwan explorations coming to an end, we made our way back to Kaohsiung very anxious to move into the dorms and to meet our lab mates and PI. The orientation was very smooth and informative and the move in process was just a bit of a struggle since the Carrefour (a super store where students in the past bought their mattress) across the street had apparently closed down 6 months prior to our arrival in Taiwan. But, with the help of Matt and the locals, we were able to get our mattresses and bedding and we were set for the night. Kaohsiung Medical University is in a pretty centralized location with the MRT (the subway station), restaurants, and night markets all walking distance away. I think I have only gone to the same restaurant once during my 2 weeks here so far and that was for some delicious Italian pasta! Definitely try to get a taste of all the different foods here! The graduate students in my lab are still taking finals or are out of the country currently so we’ve been doing a lot of literature reviews in preparation for our projects. The graduate students in the lab are seriously going to be your closest friends here as they have already taken us to so many different restaurants and we even went to the Dragon Boat Festival with many more trips planned in the future! For those who are into sports more notably basketball and volleyball, students and people in the area come and play everyday on campus when it’s not raining. The courts are outdoors, wish I had known that before I brought all my indoor gear but it’s still fun and competitive playing with everyone and it’s awesome that they practice their English with me. Must do things: Say hi to people, you’d be surprised at who you meet and eat the PINEAPPLES (from basically anywhere) and the GREEN TEA ICE CREAM SANDWICHES (found in 711)!! See you in 2 weeks! Your friend, Lam