Tainan: the world’s busiest retirement village

Writing this blog is a bit like a metaphor for my first week here- I have a lot to say, but I’ve got to figure out how to say it first. Thankfully, I think my Chinese is improving, and hopefully, as I get through this post, I will figure out how to translate my experiences into this blog (rather than into Chinese for the first time in a while). I would start this at the start of the trip, but honestly, the process was as usual in this day and age- many hours in a plane and bus with minimal sleep, minimal food, and maximum-weight luggage. I did get to live out my dream of being a productive morning person when jetlag set in and woke me up at 5 am every day for the better part of the first week. However, I am now back to my repeated alarm-snoozing mornings (unfortunately for my roommate). 

Like my usual commitments, I have left this blog post until the last minute. For the first time, however, I can honestly say it was not due to procrastination but lack of time. I think I can speak for the whole group of us UOA students when I say we are certainly making the most of our time here at NCKU. There have been so many activities packed into the first week that it has felt like the days here are far more than 24 hours each. The only thing that convinces me otherwise is that if the days here were truly more than 24 hours, then our trustworthy second home (aka the 24-hour 7-11’s) would most definitely have increased their hours accordingly. Whilst we have been told that Tainan is known for its laidback lifestyle, which attracts many elders to the city, I have found the pace of life here much more hectic than back home. This week, I visited Chikan Tower, the Chimei Museum, Anping, and Night markets, finished my first week of classes (and tests), and almost figured out how to use Moodle (NCKU’s version of Canvas). I have probably drunk more milk tea than water and missed more buses than I managed to take, resulting in several 40-minute Google-maps-guided walks to and from class. If it weren’t for the lack of insurance coverage and my clumsiness, I would probably be considering getting a scooter now. Thankfully, we have managed to move into the dorms, which are much closer than our temporary hotel, and I have even lucked out on getting a tenth-story view of the city. 

Luckily, we UOA students have language buddies that show us around the city and are here to help us survive our time here (including ingredient-checking foods so I can avoid eating shellfish in a place that uses oyster sauce as sparingly as Kiwis use tomato sauce (Thanks Ariel!!!)). Laura and I’s buddies took us to the stunning Chimei museum and the numerous surrounding markets today, where we got to see some amazing exhibits (as well as Santa). My language buddy, Ariel, asked whether, because we celebrate Christmas in Summer, Santa wore shorter clothes in NZ. I advised her he did not, but I think she made an excellent point, and someone should probably pass that advice on to him, with Christmas coming and all. 

I could go on about many differences between Aotearoa and Taiwan, but the first thing that genuinely surprised me was the cute keychains that double as bus cards (I promise there is so much more to Tainan than this, but these “bus cards” felt weirdly futuristic!) Thankfully, we were kindly given a lecture highlighting the most unique places, experiences and foods that Tainan had to offer, giving us a good guide as to what we could try out during our time here. As a big fan of anything pineapple flavoured, I can now confirm that the pineapple cakes are as good as they sound! Honourable mentions go to the beef soup, the cat pancakes, and the happiness-flavoured pocky. I have yet to try the ramen milk tea I saw on campus, but I am sure I will get around to it eventually.

One thing we got warned about when going on exchange is homesickness; however, the unpredictable weather that gives you whiplash (literally – the wind here is wicked) makes me feel as though I am right back in Auckland, and the cat cafes definitely made me feel at home! Not only have my language buddy and her friends gone above and beyond to help me navigate my first week and explore the city, but the other students have also been so interesting and welcoming. My classmates hail from various parts of every continent (except Antarctica, unfortunately), with some making our 17-hour journey here look like a walk in the park, and I am excited to get to spend more time with these people in such a cool place.

I can’t end this post without a mention of the gorgeous turtle pond right in front of my class building, filled with literally dozens of friendly turtles, so I will leave you with this and hope it brings you as much joy as it did for me. 再见! Zara :)

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