1/17 – Day Seven

Today was a very beautiful, dreary day. We began by driving up the mountains into the old mining town Jioufen. This town is on a steep cliff overlooking the pacific ocean. While we explored, we were let loose to walk down Old Street on our own. Old Street was this narrow, winding with probably hundreds of shops lining either side. Many of us bought little knickknacks and presents for our loved ones and friends back home. We were also shown the one of the oldest movie theater. It used to be used for productions, but later on was transformed into a film theater. It even still had the original projector! We then ate one of the best local, family style, lunches we’ve had thus far. Despite the rain, it was a great morning for us all.

After leaving Jioufen, we had a three hour bus ride to go see the beautiful cliff side ocean view in Sioulin. This was the most beautiful and scenic place I have ever been. Though it was still a little drizzly, the trees looked super green, the ocean was incredibly blue, and the cliffs looked massively beautiful. The bus rude itself was stunning too. The road is ranked one of the most dangerous roads in the world because it is a straight drop off into the ocean if fallen over the side. It was very curvy and many of us ended the afternoon with headaches, but the view was well worth it.

Soon after, we arrived at our lodging. This place was special because it was owned and run solely by Toroko tribe members. The dinner we had felt closer to home than it had thus far, which was a nice subtle change. The owners of the lodge invited all their guests to watch their show. The show consisted of singing, dancing, instruments, and common knowledge of the tribe. Though we got picked on a bit for not being able to understand what they were saying, it was prevalent how much the employees wanted us to participate and understand what was going on throughout the performance. We learned a lot about their family dynamics, the different scenarios dances would be done, and the type of instruments are played. Over all, this was a relaxed day filled with the most beautiful views I personally have ever seen, along with learning about a new culture.

Day 11 – 1/20

We began the day going to LiYu lake to kayak. The lake was particularly scenic as the body of water was surrounded by steep mountains and greenery. It was a peaceful and relaxing interlude amongst the rest of the trip! We kayaked there for an hour and although it was cloudy, we were lucky in that it did not rain until after we had departed. For lunch, we went to a restaurant where they served kiln-roast chicken. In this manner of cooking, they roasted the chicken in a large kiln and served it whole. We had to take the chicken and separate it into pieces ourselves with only gloved hands to protect us from the heat. We ate so much that we had to put food on a separate table to make room for more!

Our next stop was the National Center of Traditional Arts. Unfortunately we arrived there late and thus missed all the performances but we nevertheless enjoyed ourselves by visiting all the shops which lined the streets. I visited shops which sold jewelry, calligraphy brushes, handmade leather, and ceramic recorders in different shapes. I bought one in the shape of a panda!

After the National Center for Traditional Arts, we enjoyed a traditional Chinese dinner, featuring some great fish, rice with pork sauce, bamboo, winter melon, and more! It has been fun to try a lot of new foods while we have been here!

Next, we checked into our hotel, the Shangrila Leisure Farm in rural Yilan county. After settling in, we were able to enjoy some of the many fun nighttime activities offered at the hotel! First, we got to blow giant bubbles, which was very exciting. We also got to play rock, paper, scissors (in Chinese of course) against the hotel’s mascot. Those who won received red paper envelopes with coins inside, a traditional gift to children in Taiwan around the Chinese New Year.

After this, we made sweet rice balls that were added to a soup that some of us got to try! We also were given a large sky lantern, and wrote all of our wishes on it.  We released it into the sky, and if the gods look favorably on us then maybe some of our wishes will come true!

We had a great day today getting to observe and participate in many Taiwanese traditions. Many of these group activities are fun, hands-on, and great ways to learn about Taiwanese culture. We are having a great time so far, and looking forward to tomorrow!

Kayaking at LiYu Lake

Tearing apart a Kiln Roast Chicken

Street at the National Center for Traditional Arts

Sky Lantern after its release

Day 10 – 1/19

We had a later start to the day today, and first went to Seven Star Bay, which is a rocky beach in Hualien. It was very cloudy outside, but thankfully it didn’t rain, as it has been doing quite a lot! We stayed there for half an hour or so, and then we went to lunch at an aboriginal cuisine restaurant. This restaurant was one of my favorites, and many other people’s too. They served us sticky rice in bamboo shafts that we had to break open on a rock.

After lunch, we went to Taroko National Park. In this park, there are hiking trails and lookouts over the Taroko Gorge. We went to the Swallows Grotto, which is a part of the gorge where swallows nest in the potholes of the rocks. Sadly, we did not see any swallows. Vicky, our amazing tour guide, was showing me the vertical and horizontal stripes on the rock faces of the gorge, and she said that the changes in direction of the stripes are caused by the movement of tectonic plates. Taiwan is situated on top of two tectonic plates that are pushing against each other, forming the mountainous topography of the island.

In the park, we also saw the Eternal Spring Shrine, which was built to remember the workers who died while building the surrounding mountain roads.

Afterwards, we returned to the hotel for some rest, because many of us were feeling quite fatigued. For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant in a nearby mall in Hualien called Cafe Grazie. Vicky gave us a break from the traditional Taiwanese cuisine that we have been eating daily, and it was a nice taste of home.

Today was slightly less eventful than others, but the extra rest was much needed to recharge for the rest of the trip!

Seven Star Bay

Taroko Gorge
Eternal Spring Shrine

Day 13-1/22

We started our final day in Taiwan by driving back to Taipei. On route, we stopped at the Mary Leu fine wood carving gallery. There we learned how Mary Leu carves her incredible, lifelike pieces of art out of Boxwood. After that, we drove the rest of the way to Taipei where we visited the tallest building in Taipei, Taipei 101. Taipei 101 was once the tallest building in the world and has many Chinese symbols such as the number 8 incorporated into it’s design. It also has the world’s largest damper and only visible damper, which keeps the building stable during earthquakes and typhoons. In Taipei 101, we enjoyed lunch at Din Tang Feng, a famous dumpling place. There we ate a variety of dumplings including pork soup dumplings and chocolate dumplings. They were delicious. After that, we embarked on an afternoon of shopping. Our first stop was Eslite Bookstore, a 24 hour bookstore with locations all over Taiwan. Eslite bookstore had a variety of books in both English and Mandarin, as well as many other department store like shops inside. After that, we took the MRT, or Taiwan’s version of a Subway to another shopping district. We were all shocked at how clean and well kept the station and trains were. After a short ride we arrived at another outdoor shopping district with a variety of stores, including H&M and Uni Qlo. After spending some time there, we made a stop at a final department store for some last-minute shopping. Then we headed off to KTV or Karaoke where we enjoyed buffet style dinner and 2 hours filled with singing and dancing in a private room. We were given the choice to visit a night market, which we visited earlier on in the trip or go back to the hotel and pack. Overall, it was a fun and exciting last day to spend in Taiwan, with many fun memories made throughout the day.

Day 12-1/21/19

We started the day by riding on a path in small carts pulled by a farmer riding small tractors.  Along the way, we made three stops. The first was at a an insect education center where elementary school children are generally taught about insects.  The (people) there showed us different types of bugs that were either native to Taiwan or other countries in East Asia, such as different types of stick bugs and leaf bugs.  The second stop was at a tree that was many centuries old, as it had many of the traditional red ribbons that mark a tree’s age. Our third and final stop of the journey was at a koi fish pond, where we were allowed to feed the koi fish, who were very eager to get food and would swarm the area where the food was dropped, often jumping over each other in the process.Our next activity of the day was to make green onion pancakes at a green onion farm.  Green onion pancakes are a traditional food in Taiwan and are often sold in night markets. Our first step was to pick green onions, and we were provided boots to use since the field was muddy because it had been raining. Everyone picked one green onion which we then took to wash off, and afterwards an employee demonstrated how to make green onion pancakes. After everybody had cooked one green onion pancake, we boarded the bus for our next stop in Jiaosi. After arriving in Jiaosi, we checked into our hotel and visited a fish spa.  At the fish spa, there were many tanks of fish that will eat the dead skin off of the bottom of your feet. After spending time there, we walked to a restaurant for dinner that served traditional Taiwanese hot pot. For this meal, everyone ordered a type of soup. Then, there was a buffet of vegetables, noodles, and raw meats to cook in the soup and eat. After our dinner, we were able to enjoy the hot springs at our hotel in Jiaosi, a city in the eastern part of Taiwan which is known for its hot springs. The hot springs did not have any sulfur so they did not smell like the ones we had visited earlier in the trip, however, the hot springs in Jiaosi are supposed to contain other minerals that are good for the skin.  Overall, it was a relaxing end to a fun day!

Day 6 – 1/ 16

We started the day in Taipei by visiting the Zhongshan Building, built by Chiang Kai-Shek in the 1960s to commemorate Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s 100th birthday. Since the building is near sulfur springs, it had to be built with materials that won’t oxidize easily, so gold foil is used to decorate all around the building. The current president of Taiwan uses this building to host important meetings, so it is not purely a tourist destination. It was interesting to see a building built relatively recently in such a classic Chinese style. 

We then visited a sulfur spring, which is near a dormant volcano in the Yangmingshan National Park. The water in the springs is very hot, and it makes noises similar to a jet plane as it bubbles. The sulfur crystals also turn yellow as they oxidize, so this was visible on the mountain. I had never seen a landscape like it, and it was beautiful to watch.

After this, we enjoyed a traditional Chinese lunch including fish, pineapple shrimp, eggplant, boiled bamboo, taro rolls, and plenty of rice and tea, of course! 

After this, we visited the National Palace Museum. Much of the art in this museum was brought over from mainland China, and so it was incredibly interesting to see intricate works of art from the 200s CE and before! I was blown away at the sophistication of art that was so ancient. It is a testament to China’s rich history and how advanced they were very early on. We saw the revolving vase, beautiful jade and porcelain works, the world’s most expensive teacup, and more! It was great to learn about the many different mediums of Chinese art.

We finished the day by visiting a dog and cat café! This place takes in stray cats and dogs and allows them to roam around within the restaurant and they are put up for adoption! It was a great concept, and fun to get to see all of the pets.

We had a great day overall today! We were exposed to all sorts of Taiwanese culture, both old and new. This is such a great trip so far, and I can’t wait for the rest of the trip!

1/17 Day 8

Today was such a fun day. We got up (VERY early), had breakfast at the hotel, and went to visit our pen pals at a boarding school in Hualien. We have had these pen pals since the beginning of the semester, and we finally got to meet them today. When we arrived, many of the students were in two lines outside the school leading to the door. When we got off the bus, they starting singing and clapping along to a welcoming song. We followed the trail of students into a large room with platters of snacks, tea, and more students and teachers awaiting our arrival. Then, we saw a presentation about their school, and four performances from their martial arts, orchestra, sign language, and musical theatre groups. The performances were wonderfully put-together, and made us feel very special. We could tell that they had put a lot of work into the performances, and it was so amazing to see how life works at their school. Then we met up with our pen pals, and everyone was very sweet to us and excited to meet us. Because there were more students there than pen pals, we each got to speak to many students at a time. They then toured us around the school campus, and the campus was gorgeous! It was very spacious and built like a modern college campus. We all had so much fun talking with the students in their somewhat limited English and getting to know one another. Unfortunately, we had to leave after that, and we were all very sad to go. We had made friends in the short time we were there, and I know we would have all loved to spend more time them. It was truly difficult to drive away. We then went to lunch and got to order our own food, which was a pleasant surprise. Then we went to an Vataan Aboriginal Tribe Culture Center to learn how to make aboriginal cuisine. We made mochi from sticky rice (it was delicious but so hard to make!), and we saw fish soup being made with hot rocks taken straight from a fire. Then, we watched a few members of our group go fishing in the aboriginal fashion, which involved lifting bundles of twigs from a creek and shaking the fish in them out into nets. It was very fun to watch, and I’m sure it as even more fun to do. Then we went to our hotel, and then we went to another night market. We got shaved ice and played carnival games, and got to walk home by ourselves. It was pretty difficult to navigate the streets of Taiwan with only a map and willpower to get us through, but we managed to get back in time. Overall, it was a very fun, impactful day that I don’t think ANYONE will forget anytime soon.