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  • sallyintaiwan 12:17 pm on December 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , transportation   

    So I think I’ve had that experience that so many people told me I would have abroad… the one where you get lost, things DO NOT go as planned, and it turns out better (although very different) than you thought. Last weekend a group of classmates and I went to Hualien.
    Hualien is famous for its Taroko Gorge, which we all went to on Saturday, but on Sunday two of my friends and I decided to go to a place we’d heard about called the Sugar/Mochi Factory (Hualien is also famous for its mochi)… Still not sure if the factories are different places, if they both exist, or they’re the same place with two different names. The research we did online the night before gave us little info about how to get there so we went to the information center near the train station in Hualien to see if they knew anything about the place(s.) They seemed to know what we were talking about and told us to get on a particular bus and that it would take us there. We bought our tickets for what we thought would be at most a half hour ride…not sure why we made this assumption, it wasn’t going off of anything. It turned out to be the last stop the bus made, so an hour and a half later we were asking the bus driver if he knew how we should walk there from the bus stop. He, like the women at the information center, seemed to know what we were talking about, and offered to drop us off as close as he could get. When he stopped he pointed in a direction and we were on our way, in the rain, with out any real idea where to go… We were NOT in Taipei anymore. We were the only foreigners in sight, and much of what was around us was farmland. We guessed to turn right when we got to an intersection. We walked a bit more, and at this point we were truly lost. But the right turn happened to be a happy guess!

    What we stumbled upon next was a center of little shops full of aboriginal Taiwanese gifts, tea shops, and a Mochi store! Just for reference, this place is what I would consider the middle of absolutely nowhere, so I think we were fair in thinking we were on the right track to finding the factory. Busses of Taiwanese and Chinese tourists came every half hour, and all immediately went to the ice cream stand in the complex. First, we stopped to eat at “Taiwan Dumplings,” where of course, we ate dumplings, and for less than 2USD I might add, the further away we get from Taipei, the cheaper everything becomes. Then we decided to look around the shops as we asked people if they knew what we were trying to find. The shops were nothing like we would find in Taipei, even in the crafty night markets. They sold everything from aboriginal style jewelry (Hualien is home to one of many aboriginal groups in Taiwan, the Yami), to locally grown tea and coffee. While shopping and testing the many mochi flavors we continued to ask around about where the factory was. They all pointed in the same direction, so we crossed the street and entered the building they seemed to be pointing at. We entered “The Tea House” and were immediately welcomed by the family running the shop with a tea ceremony to test the locally grown tea. Before we could ask them where they thought we should go next, I was buying two tins of loose tea… it would be rude, I think, to go through the testing and not buy any, and it was great tea! We asked about the factory and they clearly pointed to where we had just come from. They said the “factory” is famous for its ice cream. We finally realized at that point, that we were not going to find the factory.

    No one was the least bit upset at how our day turned out. Being in this new place, so unlike where we have been living for the past three months made us realize that Taipei is far from all Taiwan has to offer. Of course, I love Taipei, but it far from represents everything in Taiwan. The small family owned shops with handmade crafts, the best mochi I’ve ever had, aboriginal culture and hospitality, all in this complex in the middle of farmland, all so far from Taipei reminds us how important it is get out and get lost. We decided we needed to try the ice cream (the green tea was delicious!) and laughed over how much fun poor planning can turn out.

  • Kristyna Bronner 5:51 am on November 14, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , mtr station, transportation   

    Challenge #4: The Sounds of the MTR 

    When I first read this challenge, I wasn’t sure what I should record. Should I post the dogs from nearby houses I hear barking outside of my window every night? The sounds of the the Hostel Council Groups campaigning…songs included? The sound of traffic in central Hong Kong?

    As I waited for the train at the MTR station, I had an epiphany. The MTR is full of noises: noises that I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing that I barely notice them anymore. Each announcement is played in Cantonese, (I think) Mandarin and then English.

    The one that I recorded includes the music that is always playing in the background (it really gets stuck in your head too!) and the announcement of the train approaching. Other typical announcements, which I know word for word now, include “Please mind the gap;” “Please hold the handrail;” “No eating or drinking on trains or in the paid area of stations;” and several others.

    You may need to turn up your volume to hear this one! Sounds of the MTR

  • appelsina7 6:51 am on November 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , identity, , , transportation, ,   


    Getting places in a new city is always an adventure. Especially when you don’t speak the native language very well. Usually, in the beginning it involves writing addresses down on napkins and other scraps of paper, so that you can give it to the taxi driver without having to communicate very much. After being here for almost two months, I have become more confident of my ability to communicate an address to a taxi driver or negotiate a price with a “xe om” driver (man you pay to give you a ride on his motorbike). Getting to my internship meeting for the first time was more eventful that I would have liked, especially on an early Monday morning. I have started to enjoy trying out my broken Vietnamese with taxi drivers and on this morning in particular, my driver asked the typical initial questions like “where are you from?” but then skipped a few and went right to “Do you have a boyfriend?” I was happy that I picked up the words but surprised by the forwardness of his question. I replied that I did have a boyfriend and he asked his nationality, either Vietnamese or American. Not sure where the conversation was going at this point, I answered that he is American and the taxi driver wanted to know why he did not come with me to Vietnam? It was an unusual exchange and one that ended up sticking with me, especially after my taxi driver admitted to not knowing the way. So I led him to the street, paid and got out of the cab thinking that it would be easy to find my way. I ended up not being able to find it and I asked a well-dressed elderly man who did not know the way but asked around and taking my arm led me to the address. He was very sweet and I was excited to discover that he spoke French (he was the first Vietnamese man of the older generation who I encountered speaking French). He led me carefully through the early morning traffic, giving my arm little tugs when he thought I was going to walk in front of a moving vehicle, in my eagerness to be on the sidewalk again.

    Even at home I enjoy trying new foods and being in Vietnam has made me much more adventurous. Just the other day I tried snake and on another occasion, my roommate came home very excited about some wedding cake that her friend gave her. Curious, I watched as she unpacked two plastic bags of this sticky looking green and brow gelatin looking substance. She explained that it was wedding cake made of rice from the hai phong province; the cake is called banh phu the banh com. She ate it by pulling the dark green layer from the tan layer or the whitish layer (there were two different types of the cake). So I tried some and it tasted like mildly sweet rice jelly goo. I am not a fan and happily let my roommate devour the bags of cake.

    Themes have started to present themselves now that I have been here for two months. One of these is the problems that are created by the Vietnamese attempting to straddle their traditional culture and their desire to be modern. Stemming from their traditional belief that, “we are all one,” the Vietnamese continue to live by this idea. When Vietnam was still organized in Villages, people could not exist outside of their community. Not belonging to a village meant being homeless, not connected to any place or to any one. As a result, people in their villages demonstrated and follow the unique cultural expressions of their village. People, outside of their village, were identified by it but within their community they were recognized as individuals. People ask you where you are from so they can discover who you are, defined by the village you belong to, their communal traditions and beliefs, to whom you are attached. Today this idea causes problems. Location is still very important to the Vietnamese. One of the first things I am asked when meeting a new Vietnamese is always “where are you from?” This though, because I am a foreigner and not from a village, is not a sufficient question to be able to figure out who I am. They need more information, just like I can’t ask a Vietnamese person “where are you from?” and have Vietnam be an adequate answer to begin figuring out who they are. Just like I would not recognize the specific village/town/city they come from, unless it is one of the few I have heard of or visited, they usually do not know where Massachusetts is and never know where Hadley is. As a result, they generalize about Americans, as though we are all the same. Even if they did have an understanding of the town I come from, my town and the majority of the towns in he US are not made up of people belonging to the same political, economic or religious groups. My town does effect who I am, like my preference of rural areas rather than urban ones. I have found that Vietnamese youth, like my buddy from Ho Chi Minh City and my roommate in Hanoi, try to put me in this box labeled “American” and I do not fit with many of the qualifiers that they previously thought were characteristics of Americans. Their example comes from what they watch on MTV and gain from other internet shown, movies and the internet. I am frugal, do not enjoy going to loud and smoke filled nightclubs, or wearing minuscule clothing. I do not smoke or do drugs, and I like to enjoy my drinks instead of just drinking to get wasted. I am trying to show them a more real, diverse side of the “American” that the have created from the media. Just like they are all unique, so am I and location cannot be the only identifier one uses to figure out who someone is.

  • DougReilly 8:31 pm on October 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , transportation   

    Challenge Three: Map Your Walk 

    Take a walk. Sign on to Map My Run.  Download the app.  Share your route!

    Americans abroad are usually shocked to find themselves walking. Everywhere. A lot. Feet are really wonderful devices for locomotion. You may have developed a regular walk to and from classes already, or you may have a favorite evening stroll you do to take in the sites and feel a part of your city. For this challenge, we want you to map it and share it here; it’s easy to do, we promise.

    If you don’t have a routine walk, go out and explore. Take note of where you go, and try to recreate that. When you post it, try to breath some life into the map with a description of some landmarks, a picture,  or even share surprise encounters.

    Here’s a map I made of my daily walk in Sevilla, Spain, from the neighborhood of Triana to the school I was studying at, across the river in Centro.  And,  a trek in Assisi, Italy that Juliet hoofed WITHOUT water in 90 degree HEAT — check out the elevation changes on this one!  Map My Run can be really interesting with that data.

    Congrats to appelsina7 (Melissa F.) for earning her sandals this week, in recognition of a great post and also a comment! Do post comments on other people’s posts, puts the social in social media, y’know?

  • explorewithasmile 1:47 pm on September 24, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: transportation,   

    A Walk Home 

    Blog 3: Walking to the dormitory from lunch

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