Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Last Day in Taiwan, Bittersweet...

My last day in Taiwan! Summer has gone by in a blink of an eye for sure; I now know exactly the meaning of this phrase.

Since a lot of people have already left in the early morning, and others have gone to travel more around Taiwan, I was meeting up with Richard, Vico and Jimmy for my last day mossing around the city. We were meeting up with Jimmy around lunch time, so Vico, Richard and I traveled to the famous Flower and Jade Market. These markets are situated under the highway and are only set up on the weekends. During the week, the stalls and booths get torn down and the area is turned into a parking garage. I had to get something before leaving, and since flowers and any plants aren't allowed on the plane, I ended up getting the cheapest bracelet I could see at the Jade market. ( I wore it all the way back home:) ).

Our lunch consisted of Taiwanese favorite and famous dishes! Below is the Xiao Long Bao, which are dumplings with hot soup inside (we got two orders because they were so good!) I learned from the guys that there are two ways of eating them. 1. Putting the whole thing in your mouth. Simple as that. The soup inside seems to explode in your mouth, which is so fun! and 2. Bit a tiny hole on the side and slurp the soup first, and then eat the whole dumpling. I think I like the first way! It's quick and super fun to eat!

Next, onto another foodie place! We headed to the most famous place in Taiwan to get Milk Bubble Tea. The place is called Chun Shui Tang, and they claim to be the original inventor! We were very short on time, so we didn't sit in the restaurant to drink it, just a take away. But it was so so so good. I am pretty much obsessed with bubble tea, and I think i'm already addicted... going to have major withdrawals when i'm back in America. I know there is one shop in my town that sells it, but it doesn't taste the same. Sad story.
Vico has his own store?! I forgot where we were going or coming from, but it was such a funny thing to see! And Vico smiled in a picture! Yay!

Last meal in Taiwan with some awesome people!
Finally we headed to a our last dinner. We meet Ruby there (a student volunteer) because she lives not far from the restaurant. The place was pretty good, we got to pick as many dishes from the counter as you would like, and then at the end they tallied up the total. We got some of our old favorites and some new! Just a collection of different Taiwanese dishes to try and enjoy. And to my surprise, Ruby bought a sweet little cake to celebrate my birthday! It would be my birthday when I am on the plane back to America, so it was fun to celebrate with them! The cake was so delicious! Taro flavored! Never had taro flavored cake before, and now I know what I want to get for my next birthday :) We were kind of pressed for time, Vico left early from dinner because his flight was an hr before mine... and he hasn't packed or cleaned his room! And I thought I was last minute! But we all said our goodbyes, Jimmy headed out to his hotel where he is staying just a couple more days... but eventually we all went our separate ways. Richard was the only person who had to go back to the dorm, so it was me and him traveling back by bus. I didn't realize it then, but he was the first person I met here in Taiwan from the program, and now he was the last person I would hug and say goodbye to. I was definitely sad as I rode to the airport.
This picture was from inside the airport. Taiwan's airport is so unique, they even had a couple different areas were there was a gallery that taught about the vegetation, the flora, the different animals, the culture, and finally the landscape of Taiwan. It was cool to walk around these pictures and point out places and things that I have gone and seen while living here. It was a very nostalgic moment, and another venue to look back on my journey here.
My flight was scheduled at 11 pm, but due to a couple delays, I was finally on the plane at midnight, the 22nd of July. So I can say I spent a couple of my birthday minutes actually in Taiwan! Technically because of the weird time zones, and losing hours, when I got to Chicago to meet my family, it was just the early morning of the 22nd, so I got to relive my birthday day again, officially the longest bday ever! Kind of awesome!
So, I started this blog with a picture of the flight over the Pacific Ocean, traveling to Taiwan. I thought it was fitting to put the picture of me leaving this island at the end of this blog. The plane ride home was certainly sentimental. Taiwan and it's people earned a big chunk of my heart, and I can't wait to travel back one day to revisit the memories. America are you ready for me?! I'mmm baaaacckkkkk!

Final Day of BACT Program... Sad Story

This is it! The final day of the BACT program! The time here has flown by so fast, it seems we have done so much stuff in such a short amount of time. We didn't have to be at the university until 1:30 today, so we had the whole morning to work on our project's last minute touch ups and practicing. Our powerpoint was coming together nicely so we then divvied up what slides people were saying. We ended right on time, so we had just enough time to go and have lunch in the university's cafeteria. We took a 10 minute break to gather our stuff, and then we were off to campus! Richard came down in a fancy button down and slacks! So fancy!! Jimmy also had a nice attire, but ironic how the girls just wore normal tank tops and shorts! I thought it was the girls who usually like to get dressed up? But it was ok, our group looked fabulous... ready to get this presentation finished! After a delicious noodle lunch, we headed to the conference room to prepare. We had a quick final exam, which wasn't bad at all, and then the other professors arrived; indicating it was time to start! We were the first to present, which I preferred anyway, and it went so smoothly! Everyone did a great job, I was really impressed at how much detail and thoughtfulness every group put into their project. Even some of the tough professor questions afterwards didn't frazzle people. After the presentations, the most hilarious slide show that Jack put together was shown. The room was filled with booming laughter. It encompassed the funny moments of this trip, as well as the group's inside jokes.
(left) Richard and I, (right) Jiling and Jimmy. We are all waiting, excited, for our group's turn to present our research!

Our last group jump shot! Hooray! We finished!! Now FOOOOOD!
 After all of the groups presented their project, and the closing ceremony was done, it was time for dinner. We walked out of the university just a little ways, past the mrt station (where we have gone so many times during this program) and then made it to our restaurant for the night: Just Italy. It was more up scale, compared to the more local food stalls and family owned restaurants that we have been feasting at. But it was an all-you-can-eat buffet style, with a big pasta and dessert bar! I thought it was kind of funny that we were eating at an Italian place for our last official meal in Taiwan, but it was still so yummy! Thenight consisted of yummy food, funny conversations, and an improve birthday song for Vico! It seemed like our whole group took up half the restaurant, with all the volunteers, students, and professors. We got shushed a couple times by some of the waitresses because we got a little bit too loud with our laughing and such, but that's okay, we had a good reason: it was our last night!
I don't know how many pictures I took with people, but it seemed like we took pictures non stop for maybe an hour. Everyone wanted to get pictures with every single person. But as the dinner was coming to an end, and we exhausted our allowed time at this restaurant, everyone was starting to get more emotional and sentimental. People were starting to leave, and the last hugs and goodbyes were going around. It is amazing how close everyone has become, only in this short month.
 But some of us still had time and wanted to hang out, so Jack suggested that we go to KTV, which is karaoke! It is really really popular here, and something we had to do before leaving.

OOooohhh Vico...

A picture with the USA crowd! Richard and Kim (University of Illinois)
Some of the student volunteers...and then there's Baker. Thanks for all of your help!
This girls, Kim (USA) and Jiling (China) are so amazing! Roomies for the past couple days, and part of our group research project! The picture on the right is our last "morning exercise" that we did routinely in Sitou.  
Jack! Words can not express how thankful I am for all your hard work coordinating this program!
I've never been to a KTV (karaoke) place before! I was amazed at how popular it is here; as common as going to a movie! In the states, I can't even remember seeing a karaoke place in my town. but it was a cool experience. Because of our large group, we got one of the bigger rooms. There was a free small food buffet outside our room, so we of course had a few snacks. It was fun to see some of us get really into the song! The singing styles of some people were... well, interesting to say the least! haha :) I was surprised that they had a large selection of english songs as well! But... pretty much all of the song were from the 90's so I didn't really know a lot of them! Except we did sing the Call Me Maybe song (or Call Me Baby, as Baker calls it), which got everyone yelling at the tv. We were out until 3:30 in the morning, so everyone was really tired afterward. Some of us had flights before noon so sleep was needed.
After some very final sad goodbyes, we all walked slowly back to the dorm. We were trying to extend the every moment we had together before some of us had to go. So sad, but we all vowed that we would someday meet up again. A reunion is coming! Can't wait to see everyone again!

The KTV room with everyone ready to sing their hearts out!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

We are Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo...

the "evolution" of our group.
The first stop was behind the actual park, and into sort of a rescue center. We weren't allowed to take pictures because of legal reasons, so sorry for the lack of pics! but it was very neat! The majority of animals were reptiles: snakes, lizards, turtles, ect. We also got to see some frogs and fish! Many of the most venomous snakes here in Taiwan were all found on this one shelf. Our guide's favorite animal here was a turtle species who is very aggressive. It was hiding behind the water feature, and our guide really really wanted us to see it, so he bravely tried everything to move it out into the open. We were all fearing for the safety of his hand, as he reached in. But he got it to come out. I don't know if "mean" is a good physical description word, but this small turtle was for sure a mean looking old turtle. The guide also put 3 fish in the tank, and immediately the turtle went into hyper drive, and lurched this way and that to snap at the fish... successfully I might add. Next we went outside to view the gigantic tortoises, some lemurs, and a HUGE snapping turtle (I think it was close to the world record in size). Finally, we were lead to a gate, and we were told to be very quiet. We turned the corner, and I didn't even notice at first, but literally 4 ft to my left, behind the fence, was a grown tiger laying on the platform. The tiger's face was level to mine, so I could easily compare the immense size; so beautiful up close! The paws that were up against the fence were so huge! I loved this moment, even if it was just a couple minutes.
After the "behind the scenes tour" we took a tram up to the front of the park. It was lunch time, and the only place to eat for miles was the mcd's. Wasn't my prime choice, but we were all starving already, so we grabbed some food and plopped ourselves down in the center of a vacant stage. Jack pretty much said that we had the whole day to do whatever, and that he will see us in the morning, haha! So we all decided to see the rest of the park before heading back, then working on our project, or doing something else.


I was so excited that we saw an actual panda that I had to ride one too! Duhh!

We also stopped off at the formosan monkeys (which we saw wild, one night outside of Taipei. They were just playing on the trees outside our hostel's window!), the sika's (a type of deer endemic to Taiwan), and other small critters. Richard wanted to head to the insectarium, so I joined! After we split from the group, we quickly came upon this huge building all dedicated to the different insects found here in Taiwan. The flowers that surrounded  the building was already attracting a lot of different butterflies. It was actually really interesting! We walked through many different displays, and one big open air space where the butterflies and other insects were freely flying about around us. It was fun playing "eye-spy" with some of the camouflage insects that were hidden in these containers. Some I couldn't even spot, and I was already pressing my face to the glass in order to try and see. Nature is sneaky! 

I was surprised at how tolerant the butterflies were here; they weren't fazed by my camera lens that was barreling down near their face.  It's fine by me, because then I got some cool close-up shots!

We were all starting to get really hot (it was another one of the most humid and hottest day we've experienced here in Taipei), tired, and desperately needed a shower, so we decided to take the tram back to the park's entrance, and then got on the mrt back to Gonguan station (near the university). Once it got a little cooler, some of us went to another night market near our dorms to go shopping! Many of us came away with a shirt or two, shoes, or some accessories. In the back of my mind, i'm still worrying if I will be able to fit everything back in my suitcase... hmmm...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

First Day Back in Taipei + Project Finalizing

Today is our first day back in Taipei! It was really weird feeling when we were walking to the university this morning. It felt like we just returned "home"...We had an early start today to head out to NTU's Student Farm. We were all pretty excited, even though we were still exhausted from traveled back yesterday. But we were going to do another farm-work experience: planting rice! We grabbed the trays filled with young rice blades, slipped off our shoes, and took a spot at the plot's edge. The plots were filled with a grey, think, mucky mud that honestly we were all excited to get our feet into. But when I finally placed my foot into the mud, I didn't realize how deep the mud was, as I sank high to my calf. Our task was to delicately and securely place 3 to 5 of the rice blades into the mud at the grid's intersections. The was a video we watch later in the day about current farming practices, and how now there are many machines that do the same job quicker. The machine planted a whole row in a second. I compared this to a total of 18 people sticking the rice one by one, which took many a 2 hours or so. There were a couple of us who unfortunately lost their footing, so they came out of the farm plot with more mud than the others haha! :)

Look at us hard at work :P
Happy, happy, joy, joy!

Steven showing off the rice we were planting!
So after our farm work experience, we headed back to the conference room to enjoy a rice-based lunch. The table was filled with different foods such as some sticky rice, rice noodles, rice dumplings etc. They were all very delicious. We even had 3 different types of standard rice. Ones with longer grains, and varying colors. I knew rice was a very important food staple in Taiwan (and many Asian countries) but I didn't realize how many other foods are derived from rice!
The three different types of rice!

Rice dumpling ( I had this last month when it was the Dragon Boat Festival!)

Taro! one of my favorite treats!
We had some free time after our rice lunch, I honestly can't really remember what we all did, maybe a much need nap? Who knows, but I do know many of us got together for a wonderful dinner! We went to a place that is really popular here in Taipei. I was told that this restaurant is known for business men who want to impress a client, or something like that. And rightfully so, the food was absolutely delicious. Plates just kept coming; it seemed like it was a feast! I pretty much enjoyed everything there (and everything I've tried here in Taiwan), but I came across this one plate, and of course I didn't recognize it, so I thought "must try it!" ... ohhh.. it was the most chewy piece of meat ever. Very rubbery, and I couldn't pin point what it was! So I asked, and to my dismay, it was pig's... intestines. yay...

The array of plates!

And of course we traveled back in style! I love the bike rental system here in Taipei! So easy, just swipe your student id card, and the first 30 minutes is free. Even if you do go over the half hour time, the cost is so cheap, equivalent to a couple cents.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Gathering the Last Bits of Data

3 plots in one day! It was amazing how after each plot we finished, we got faster and faster! Our plotting technique was more precise each time, and our counting method was faster as well! I'm so proud of our team! At the beginning of the day, we knew we had to act fast in order to finish today. We had a total of 3 plots to do today, and time was a'wastin! We changed our plotting technique. According to Judy, she suggested that we plot the 2 diagonal lines first. This worked out perfectly because it was faster and easier! We first sent Kim into the forest to be the designated center. Then we took our nylon string (which was 70.7 meters now) and used the compass to plot an "X". This created a triangle, and each of us got to count on of these triangles. This method was perfect.
The sunny weather definitely made a difference in everyone's mood and will power. It was way easier counting the trees, climbing through the dense brush, and recording our data without the harsh rain and darkness!

We finally finished the labor intensive work portion of our project! Hurray! And it was only 3 pm! We had a while until dinner was served and we have been working hard the whole day, so we haven't have time to actually explore the Experimental Forest. So after gathering all our equipment, we picked a trail and off we go! Our destination was the Giant Tree near the end of the trail. This tree is a red cypress, whose height is 46.2 meters! The trunk was recorded at 5.5 meters, and finally it is estimated to be 2,800 years old! We hiked another trail, with more steps this time, so more of a workout. Our destination was the rainbow bridge! It wasn't anything too spectacular, but it still was a nice hike and chit chat time.

Me in front of the "Giant Tree", it sure was huge!
"Somewhere over the rainbow..."

Aren't my roomies pretty!?
 After our hard day of work, it was our last night in Sitou, and we haven't explored the surrounding villages! There was a small Japanese style village which translates into "Monster Village." With a name like this, I didn't really know what to expect! But after a short walk up the dark hill, we come upon the town, which is brightly lit with lanterns. The red hue from the lanterns were everywhere, which lit up the various monster statues. The whole thing was very animated. We even came across a stage where there were 2 people in a monster costume... I wasn't really sure what they were doing, but some music came on (which included Gangnam Style.. lol) and they proceeded to dance.
The audience seemed to get really into it, as people danced along with them. It was sort of comical to me, but still entertaining!

Interesting dancers?

(left) me and my green tea + bamboo charcoal flavored ice-cream! And (right) some friends playing around in the shops!