Saturday, June 30, 2012

Yi, er, san, si, wu... (one, two, three, four, five...)

Wow, the things I've seen and done since I last wrote is pretty amazing! The program I'm in really squeezes so much into these four short weeks, and I am exhausted! There's no way I can possibly explain everything I've done, but I can attempt. I really wish I could remember all the weird cultural things I learn throughout the day; those, to me, are sometimes the most interesting!

Since last time, I've gotten to be a little more familiar with the National Taiwan University Campus. The group played a scavenger hunt (in the 100 degree and almost 100% humidity) and went to the Unversity's history museum. I'm really surprised how many museums are here! I don't think Purdue has any that I know of. We also went to the zoology and insectarium that's here. The collection of insects they have is unbelieveable. They have a huge room that looks more like a library with tons of drawers that has probably 100 insects on each one. The only other things we've done on campus the past week are listening to lectures each day, which are usually extremely exhilarating and an hour and half each, and attempting to take a Chinese course, which failed by the end because we lazy Americans were way too tired by the end of the day to be able to even speak proper English. I can count in Chinese and introduce myself, however. I didn't learn bathroom though, which is probably the most important. But the calligraphy class we took was fun! They all kept asking me if I had written calligraphy before, but they also didn't see me tracing the characters instead of "writing" them... whoooops.

But the best things I've done this week have been off campus. We went to Yangmingshan National Park, where we hiked a trail on a mountain overlooking Taipei, and also Siaoyoukeng volcanic site. The volcano there has been dormant for several hundred years, but there are still several sulfur steam vents scattered in the area. We've been to the Beitou hot spring museum, which the building used to be used much like a Greek bath, and to Thermal valley, which is where the hot water came from for the baths. We went to a place called Jingshan that grows indigo, which used to be Taiwan's biggest crop aside from rice and tea. We dyed pieces of cloth much like tye-dying- something they really don't do too often here so that was pretty exciting for the Asians. One of my favorite places we've been to is Dharma Drum Mountain, the actual first Buddhist temple I've been too (Longshan temple I saw a long time ago actually wasn't Buddhist, it was Tao). I mainly loved it for its location; it's on top of the mountain over-looking the sea, which I haven't seen yet! It was a very peaceful place, which makes sense, but there wasn't as much "ummmm"ing as I expected. Then we went to the Juming Museum, which may be one of my favorite art museums I've ever seen. It was mostly outside that was full of people figures made from bronze and styrofoam. It was incredible that one person came up with hundreds of different figurines, but his sense of humor and our hilarious tour guide is what kept me interested. Driving back from this museum, we passed a Taiwanese cemetary, which I am not sure why is not a stop on our schedule becasue has some of the most beautiful arcitecture I've ever seen! Instead of stones, these people give their dead whole houses, and there are thousands of these marble houses, and each family uses different colors and styles for their house. They were all placed on a mountainside, and from a distance it looks like a city for the Greek gods or something. I was staring at it all on the bus that I really didn't get any good pictures of it. We've been to the Yingge ceramics museum, which wasn't too intersted except for the pottery that we got to paint in the kids 12 and under room, which fits me perfectly. One night we went on a frog observation, which makes me feel like a real Crocodile hunter now. I'm quite sure our guide was a frog incarnate; he could hear a frog 50 feet away, know exactly where it was, and grab it without missing a beat. Someone apparently needs a life. But we did see nine different frog species, even one endangered one. Yesterday we went to the famous National Palace Museum, which people might of heard of outside of Taiwan along with Taipei 101. Many of the Chinese artifacts were brought here from the Forbidden Cityh in Beijing before the Japanese take over. So all the artifacts we saw were about Chinese history, going back to almost 6,000 B.C. The museum was massive, and we barely saw any of it. We saw 1% of the artifacts displayed, which is 1% of the artifacts stored in the museum, which is 1/4 of the total artifacts that are both in China and Taiwan. It reminded me very much of an Asian Louvre; you would have to spend many years to be able to see everything. I finally got to see the very famous Jade cabbage, which I see magnts and keychains of it everywhere, and now I finally understand why. And of course the famous meat stone- a piece of jasper made to look like a slab or pork. It doesn't surprise me at all that the most famous artifacts are food related here...

Other than traveling around the Taipei area, I've gotten to know a whole new set of people who are actually more my age (most of the people in the lab and zoo were older than I am). Even thoug I feel like I've been here forever, I am still learning something new everyday about their culture. Oh, I do remember one cultural thing. So a couple of times I've talked to people about tacos, and how we eat them in America often since many of us like Mexican food. Turns out that taco here means octopus. Well I've definitely messed up people's perception of American food. I'm sure the term came about through a mistranslation at some point. I figured it out when the guide at the ceramics museum was discribing a vase in front of us, saying how the top had a big head and base came together at the bottom with lots of legs, like a taco. She certainly knows better now!

Wow, I still have 3 more weeks to go, and the amount that I am going to see everyday is not going to change! I have traveled to many places, but I've never been on-the-go for this long before. Not that I'm complaining; I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to do this. But I can't wait to get some breathing time once I come home! I will be in Taipei for three more nights, and then I will finally leave this dorm room for the first time and stay in other hotels and camps as we travel around the island for two weeks exactly. I'm really excited, but I won't lie that I want it to go at least a little bit quickly! Hopefully I will be able to find internet access while I am abroard; I'm not sure I can remember two weeks worth of experiences when I get back to Taipei!

Inside the insectarium

View at Yangmingshan

One of my wildlife shots- which was the main point of the hike at the park.

At the volcanic site

Bamboo forest at the top of the mountain- the mist gets so dense here in the afternoon!

Bath at the hot springs

Thermal Valley

Our indigo clothes

At Dharma Drum Mountain

Juming Museum

My calligraphy, not too bad :)

Ceramics museum

At the National Palace Museum- we weren't allowed to take pictues inside. I was so bummed!!

With the two Texas A&M students!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Si xinqi (4 weeks!)

My internship is sadly over; my last day was on Friday. I did my final presentation, which went really well, and to celebrate some of my labmates and I went to a place called Maokong Gondola, except the gondola was closed because of the rain! So we drove to the top of the mountain on mopeds and went to a tea house while it poured. The mountain here is very famous for its tea, and even though I'm not the biggest tea fan, it wasn't too bad! We had fun just talking, playing games, and looking at the beautiful view. Later on, the guys took me out to a type of restaurant that is undoubtedly a favorite among college students... cheap plates of food to share and beer... lots of beer. We had a really fun (and very safe!!!) time! I tried alot of strange foods that night, AND I wasn't allowed to know what many things were until I tried them... how unfortunate and frustrating for me! Especially when told to try some Dragon Balls; that one took ALOT of convincing. But I did it, and finally learned that they are squid mouths or something... not sure I will be having those again. But I have been a brave soul so far this trip; no one has any right to give me grief about not trying things!

It was a sad goodbye to my labmates and fellow zookeepers, but I hope that the BACT (Biodiversity, Agriculture, and Culture of Taiwan) program is just as fun! I had my first day of it today. We had our orientaiton this morning, and met all of the students that I will be with for the next four weeks. There are only a handful of US students here out of the 25 students total, three of which (not including myself) are westerners. A very different ratio than what I expected! About a third of the students participating are NTU students, and the international students come from China, University of Illinois, Texas A&M, UCDavis, University of Maryland, and others I think I'm forgetting! And of course Purdue. We learned a little more about what we will be doing during the course (and yes we get a grade for it too, boo!) and the places we will be traveling. Then we went to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, which was an amazing place with the colorful, traditional architecture that I associate with Asia. Then we went to the National Taiwan Museum, which was a small museum with a little bit about the ecology and early history of Taiwan. I think many students traveling here were quite tired so we ended a little early.  Tomorrow is the official start to the program, and I hope that I won't be too busy or exhausted to keep blogging about everything that I'm doing! I learned today that for the course I am supposed to keep some kind of daily journal while I am here; I hope I won't be too tired to keep repeating myself!

I'm really excited to meet alot of new people; I still can't believe how many more names I'm going to have to remember now! I didn't realize coming here that I would get to know so many people. It's a little overwhelming at times, but I know it will be worth it. Today did feel kind of strange since I have been here so long that it is like the first day all over again. We had to show the newcomers where everything is, how to use the MRT (subway), how to buy things, etc. I almost wish this program had been before the internship; most of these things I had to figure out on my own! I guess I just feel like the Asian expert now :) Actually I'm farrrrr from it...

The reality of what I've been doing this month; it hasn't all been play I swear!!

Some of my labmates enjoying their Purdue gifts

My favorite zookeepers!

The teahouse at Maokong

Celebrating Taiwanese style!

Theatre at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial

The actual memorial

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bìng (sick!)

Only 4 more days left of the internship, part 1 of my trip! It's going very fast, yet the I still feel like I am going to be here for a long time! I've had a really great time, and this is by far the biggest learning experience I've ever had. And it's not nearly over with either. I really am not sure what the second part of my trip is going to be like, though I do have a detailed schedule of what we will be doing. It looks super busy, and each day is packed full of places to see and lectures to listen to. If I had to guess, I would say that it is going to be VERY different than the experience I have had so far. I have really enjoyed the freedom I have had during internship; I love that it feels like I live here and can do things at whatever time I want to. The second part I think I am going to feel more like a tourist with a group of about 25 international students (I think some may be Taiwanese too) which has both its positives and negatives. From looking at all the activities we are going to be doing, I will likely be dead exhausted when I come home! Thoug h I will be very busy, I hope I will still have time to keep communicating with everybody.

So far I feel that I am pretty lucky to have had good health, especially with a drastically different diet here. I have been careful on what things to try and what looks like a good idea to avoid, which is many times an easy decision! A bad choice the other day may be apart of the problem, but I unfortunately had to deal with stomach/migraine issues yesterday. Though I am feeling slightly better today, I am hoping these go away asap! Not a fun time....

Today is my last day working at the zoo *sniff*, a part of this experience that I may miss the most! Though it is a hot, sweaty job, I am quite used to those during the humid summer at home, and I will be sad to leave all the great friends I've made there. They've been super hospitable to me and have trusted me with some independence when working there. We already have tons of inside jokes and are pretty goofy most of the time. I will be so sad to leave! I really wish I could post pictures that I've taken while being there, but if you have interest in seeing some just let me know, and I can show you without publicly posting them.

I have to finish up a little presentation about what I've been doing these past four weeks. I am just talking about my duties at the zoo as well as the ELISA project I've been doing in the research lab. It turns out the leopard cat (very different from a leopard, which I didn't realize at first) that I tested for progesterone concentration was not pregnany, which would have been exciting :( So the last thing I need to do is determine the length of its etrous cycles, and then I will be pretty much done.

That's pretty much the gist of what's been going on the past couple days. Please please please email me/message me with what's been going on with you or if you have any more questions about anything! I would love to hear it. I wouldn't say I'm exactly homesick, but hearing about home definitely makes me feel better. I am pretty sure I will be ready to head to the airport when the time comes; I just want to stick all my new friends in my suitcase with me!

Love you all :)
My zoo friends and I went to a sushi place with the conveyor belt- something I've been wanting to do since I got here! Easily the best food I've had yet. We had a blast that night.

The different color plates are different prices, so your stack of plates that you have totals your bill.

Some delicious examples

Here are some of us
Making the sushi

Afterward, Alou, a girl from my lab who is doing research at the zoo and got me into the department I've been working in, bought me a gift at a night market- a Chinese fan with my Chinese name written on it! It's so beautiful and something I will keep to remember how much help she has been to me while being here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Yícì hóngshuĭ (Flood!)

I'm sorry Indiana, apparently Taiwan decided to take all your rain away from you! I've heard it's been very dry over there recently, which is certainly not the case here! The lightening last night was pretty incredible, with several bolts literally striking right outside my window. The rain poured nonstop from evening all the way through the next day. The flooding has gotten bad enough that when I got to the zoo, there was a city wide shut down, closing all the schools, universities, and goverment facilities. So we all had to leave early. I asked if this is something that is common here, seeing as typhoon season is approaching. They said no, but I think it occurs just about as much as we have snow days at home. I heard on the radio that they had to evacuate about 3,000 people out of one area of the city because of the flooding. And typhoon season starts in July... I have no idea what that's going to be like!

It's been a pretty good last couple of days, to everyone's relief I'm sure :) I got to go shopping with Christina Huang, a fellow Columbus native who is here visiting family. So nice to have something in common with someone here! I did quite a bit of exploring and am taking advantage my independence.

After a great deliberation with my zoo coworkers, I finally have a Chinese name- something I have been wanting since I arrived. From now on you can just call me Lán Yuan. Brownie points for you if you know what it means! Take a guess.

Random cultural things I've discovered in Taiwan-
  • When showing the number 6 with your fingers, instead of using all the fingers of one hand and the index finger of the other, you use the thumb and pinky. 7 is the thumb and index finger.
  • I hardly ever see any colored cars here, other than yellow taxis. It's either black, white, or maybe a silver car here and there.
  • People will wear pretty much anything with English on their clothing, and it is sometimes apparent when they have no idea what their clothes are actually saying. When discussing this with my Taiwanese friends, I found that Ameicans are just as guilty when getting Chinese symbols as tattoos- getting the "prettiest" looking symbol is probably a bad idea.
  • There is never a day here when ladies do not go without their umbrella. It could rain that day, or the sun may shine that day, and unlike the American obsession with being tan leather bags, Asians have an obsession with being as transparent as a ghost. Looks like we all just want to be what we aren't...
  • People here will eat anything, and I mean ANYTHING.
  • There are very few trash cans anywhere outside or even in buildings, which is always inconvenient, yet there is hardly any litter to be seen. I guess Americans are literally trashy people, no pun intended.
  • abc= American born Chinese
  • Everyone here knows about Purdue University, and everyone here believes it's an Ivy League school. I'm ok with that.

Christina and I

Some pictures of the area around my dorm. I live right across the street from the Taipei water park

This is under a bridge near my dorm. They have a rock climbing wall and a giant slide that I never knew about until I went exploring.

Looks a little like Columbus, IN
711 next door to me. These things are like Starbucks, they're everywhere!

Memorial burial site for a past NTU president

Entrance to the farmer's market I went to

This is what I meant when I said they'll eat anything...... please don't stare at it for too long...

Baby mangoes- up there on my favorite food so far!
NTU sports center

They were getting ready for the NTU prom when I was looking around. At first I thought they were setting up for a fashion show. Red carpet Harry Potter theme, I'm pretty jealous

Not sure who was going to be playing, but setting up for a live band.