With our professional management class being over we only had our Mandarin class left. Today we continued focusing on characters and sentence structure. It was also our friend Margaret’s birthday, so we celebrated with cake and pop. After class we went down to get some food before coming back up to relax in the dorm. We didn’t really have any major plans for the day, so we went to top city mall during the night time. While there we shopped around and went out for a nice dinner. It was at a place called Brava Beer and the food was quite good, albeit in small portions. After the movie we all headed back to the dorm and settled in for the night. It was another movie night for us guys and then off to bed.
Today is a Thursday, but it is also the last day of class for the week. We continued our vocabulary building and using the new words in senates. I find myself continually using similar sentences, just with the new words plugged in. It might not be entirely what we are supposed to be doing, but I generally succeed more when doing so. The flash cards she has us use do not seem to be entirely helpful due to the lack of time we get to spend using them. But it is still a fun class and we are enjoying ourselves immensely. After class we all rushed to pack and get ready to head to Taipei. We all waited until the last minute, so our packing for the weekend was relatively frantic. Nate and myself finished packing and went down to get lunch before the bus ride. We got to ride on a Greyhound like bus for the three hour bus ride.
Once in Taipei we went straight to the youth center in which we would be staying. It was part of a large complex and even had its own convenience store underneath! On a hill beside the youth center you could see the Grand Hotel, which used to be Taiwan’s premier hotel. It looks quite beautiful in the sunset. We left the hostel and headed downtown to eat at a special restaurant. While there we met a chef who had apparently met our group from last year while they had been in Hualien. He was very nice to us and entertained us with funny stories throughout the meal. I am proud to say that I was one of the few people from our group to eat the mini octopus like thing put in front of us. It was chewy, but also quite tasty. After dinner we headed back to the youth hostel to go to bed. The guys watched In Time starring Justin Timberlake, which was on the only english channel we could find.
To the national palace museum we go! This is the biggest museum in Taiwan and one of the famous in Asia. It has artifacts that literally span thousands of years and are mostly from China. They say that if you looked at every item in the museum, most of which are rotated in and out of storage, it would take you around 10 years. We were given just a couple hours, but we gave it our best shot. There were a number of cool paintings and pottery pieces that we got to see. They also had a terracotta soldiers exhibit, complete with a few of the actual soldiers. For those who don’t know, the terracotta soldiers were statues made to be buried with an old Chinese emperor. He believed that they would help to protect him in the afterlife. Each statue is unique and has its own facial expression and appearance. It was really neat seeing the exhibit and learning about the history of the different pieces there.
Before leaving I stopped by the gift shop. While looking around I saw a really cool poster print of one of the art pieces. It only had a sticker price of 50 NT, so I figured why not buy it. Upon checking out I learned that it was only actually 15 NT. That means I got a really cool poster for just under $0.50 USD. I was happy with this deal as we headed to the Grand Hotel for lunch. I did not realize we were heading to a buffet and was quite happy to see all the food laid out. Walking into the hole was amazing and truly a unique experience for me. The food ended up tasting amazing and I ate way more than my fill. We looked round the hotel and perused the goods in a few shops. You could certainly see the clientele for some of these shops was high end, with Tea being as expensive as $100 USD for just 150 grams. A wee bit out of my price range.
After leaving the hotel we headed to the fisherman’s wharf for a relaxing stroll along the storefronts. Once arriving there, my roommate and I got separated from the group in the MRT station. You would have thought that they would have noticed 600 pounds of man missing from the group. But they kept going and we didn’t see where they went. After about 15 minutes of searching we found them and walked around some more. Sitting by the water was quite relaxing and we made sure to spend most of our time on a pier. After relaxing for the evening, we left and headed back to the youth center. No movie tonight, but we did hang out in the common area and talk for a couple hours.
Today we got to go to the zoo. Once in the Taipei Zoo, Taiwan’s largest zoo, we went straight to see the Pandas. We were disappointed to find out that they were sleeping and wouldn’t really be too exciting to see. But after leaving that exhibit we got to see animals ranging from white rhinos to lemurs (Flashback to Zaboombafoo) to turtles. The zoo was quite hot and offered very little shade, but luckily also had numerous water refilling stations. The trip went well and it was off to Taipei 101 for the rest of the afternoon. This is formally the tallest building in the world and it also has one of the fastest elevators in the world. The elevator ascends at an astonishing 1010 meters per second, which is quite fast. The mall near the base of the tower was filled with stores I did not belong in. Places like Rolex, Gucci and Prada to name a few. We skipped shopping here and relaxed in a cafe for our free time. The iced latte was good and the atmosphere was enjoyable. After the drink we went to eat at a famous tumbling store in the mall. It is so popular that they have about 50 or so people waiting outside at all times. We made a reservation and then headed in later. They truly did have amazing dumplings and the meal was quite good overall.
After eating it was time to ride the elevator up to the 89th floor of the tower. We did so and were greeted by an interesting sight. They had a number of stores and shops on the floor, with a 360 degree view of the surrounding city. We spent some time relaxing there and then headed to the center of the building. There is a 6 tonne ball there, that sways in order to protect the tower during earthquakes and other random events. The ball counteracts any disturbances and keeps the tower straight up. It was truly impressive to see. Our group then fractured into smaller groups to go see other things. My roommate Nate and I decided to visit an Inn we had seen on the internet. The journey there took us through a market and past a number of cool stores. The inn itself is called the Three Lions Inn and provided a really neat atmosphere. It also made me miss home a little, since this was a western themed establishment. After leaving the inn we headed back to relax and go to sleep.
Today we headed home, but not before exploring more of the city. We first went to he Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. It was explained to us that he had helped to broker a truce between China and Taiwan that lasted to today. But many Taiwanese dislike him due to the fact that his actions had led to the death of a number of Taiwanese people. The memorial was a huge area and had a few large buildings on it. We went in a couple of them and then left to visit a marketplace. The marketplace was quite large and was also difficult to navigate through. We ate at the Toilet restaurant for lunch, which provided us with quite a few laughs. I’ll never get over eating chocolate ice cream out of a toilet shaped bowl. That was certainly unique. We walked around the market afterwards, stumbling upon a small mall. This mall was 5 stories tall, but quite narrow and shallow. Once we walked up to the 5th floor and explored it, we took the elevator down. That was practically a death wish, due to the fact that the elevator had plywood walls and looked to be in terrible condition. We rode it down and hoped the whole time that the elevator would not break while we were on it.
After the marketplace it was time to go. While we had a good time at the market, we were ready to head back. We picked our stuff up from the youth center and headed to the train station. We got to ride back on a bullet train! The train barely felt like it was moving, yet we made it back in 1 hour. That is including a half dozen stops to load people on and get people off of the train. Once we arrived we rode busses back to dorms. A few of us topped for fried chicken, which is always a great choice. The fried chicken shop near campus is amazing! We ate it and went to bed quite full and happy.
Next to last day of class today! We also focused on doing art projects in class, which was a huge plus. I made 4 cup holders and they all had the symbol for wealth on them. If you use that symbol, it’s supposed to be good luck for your finances. After class we had an enterprise visit with Jonnesway. They are a tool manufacturer in Taichung. There facility was really neat and we were personally escorted by the founder! He was very nice and even took pictures with all of us. We found out that they mainly produce tools for companies and not for individuals. They do business in over 100 countries and have been in business for just over 30 years. They believe in the age old mantra of making promises and sticking to them no matter what. We were all given a small screwdriver set as we left and I got to take a picture with a giant wrench. My parents would be so proud…
After Jonnesway we headed to the Wetlands. The view was beautiful and you could see thousands of baby crabs all over the ground. We walked past them and towards the water. In the distance you could see a large cruise ship, which reinforced how close to the ocean we really were. We left the wetlands and finished the evening at a tea shop. I enjoyed the food, but liked the tea even more so. I bought a bag of oolong tea as we left, which ended up costing me about $20 USD. I feel as though that was money well spent. A very busy day, but it is all starting to wind down. We will head home here in less than a week!
The last day of mandarin class! Today is was not about learning, but seeing what we have learned. We played a game designed to test this by having a number of cards with characters, phrases and vocabulary. If you missed a card, you would get a burglar token. If you received 9 burglar tokens, you lost the game. We practiced a few times and then went up to play in front of the teacher. I tied in my round, getting 6 out of 10 correct. I lost the tie breaker, but I couldn’t help feeling like Rocky after he lost to Apollo Creed. Yes, I went the distance. Yes, I am horrible at Mandarin. I got a little too excited.
After class we had a painting cultural class. I was super excited until I remember how terrible I am at painting. She showed us how to do the right strokes and movements, but I still did terrible. Both of mine came out looking dramatically different then what the examples we had looked like. I was so far off on one that she kinda looked stunned for a second and said “Very different. At least you’re being creative!” I believe that my second grade self would look at my artwork of today and realize that we haven’t improved in every skill since then. It is alright though, I certainly enjoyed myself. After class it was time to relax for a while and then off for dinner. We split up into our smaller groups again and headed to separate places. I ended up eating half an order of fries and popcorn chicken, along with some Doritos (The dinner of champions). The off to bed and to watch the Wolf of Wall street.
The first of our 3 free days. I slept in and relaxed in the early morning, heading to our banquet at noon. Once there we got certificates and a gift of tea and pineapple cakes. They also made a video of our adventures during this trip, which we all enjoyed. It is weird to think that 6 weeks went by so quickly. We only have two full days left and then we leave this Saturday. Thats pretty crazy to think about for me.
After the banquet we went out to eat at a pizza buffet. The food was amazing and we all ate so much. They bring the food out to you, which was dangerous for me. I ate so many different types of pizza that I thought I might explode. We shopped around after leaving and I bought a small gift for my cousin. When we got back it was time to relax for a while and then head out. Tonight was our last time eating at our favorite dumpling store. The food was as good as always and we enjoyed it. Now it is time to relax and watch a movie to finish out the day. Life is good.