Master’s student and Student Services Coordinator, Kate Broderick is studying in Taiwan for a three-week intensive study of Chinese language and culture, based at Tunghai University in Taichung. The program was made possible by a scholarship from the Humanities and Communication program at Florida Tech. She will be chronicling her experience over the next three weeks on our blog.
Bai Kai Ling. It means white, the feeling of happiness from within, and the beauty of round jade. For the next three weeks, it will also be the name I go by while studying Chinese at the prestigious Tunghai University as part of Florida Tech’s Humanities and Communication Study Abroad: Taiwan program.
This was my first full day in Taiwan. Today literally feels as though it has lasted a thousand years—not the thousand years of waiting for the bell to ring for recess when you’re eight, but the thousand lifetimes Aladdin must have felt when he discovered limitless treasure and wonders to behold.
Despite the jetlag that should have held me wrapped it is nefarious claws, I awoke at 5:00am, a scant three hours after
throwing myself into bed. I was too excited. I quietly petered around my room for as long as I could until a respectable hour rolled along, and then called Ivy, my wonderful guide to the Taiwanese culture, and we met up for an early morning bubble tea. Bubble tea, you should note, is one of the top 40 wonders of Taiwanese cuisine. Bubble tea shops dot the street, almost as much as the 7-Elevens that are literally on every street corner. In a strange juxtaposition to my study abroad travels of last week, when I travelled throughout the Netherlands dodging bicycles, motorcycles and mopeds own the road in Taichung, the city we are staying in.
After changing our rooms around, we headed to breakfast. I ate something called Taiwanese bread. You can choose a variety of fillings, but here is the basic gist: it is like a Panini made out of croissants, lined with an omelet, lettuce, ketchup, and corn. It was delicious! And it only cost NT$35—or just over $1 USD. After breakfast, we worked our way to the campus, stopping at several shops on the way. We came across a store similar to CVS (if CVS was three-stories and had a lingerie section), when I discovered something entirely foreign to my native Floridians—a serious obsession with UV protection. Gloves, scarves, arm wraps, face masks—all practically military grade gear to prevent exposure to UV rays. You may find this hard to accept, my fellow Floridians, but tan is certainly not the fashion in Taiwan. Being practically albino myself, I feel as though I am finally at home among my people. I’d say more than half of the people on the street carry umbrellas to protect against the sun. Since this is one of the few places that that’s socially acceptable behavior, I of course caved to peer pressure and am now the proud owner of a pink and silver UV-impenetrable umbrella.
Before reaching Tunghai, we stopped to eat something. I was highly, highly dubious about sampling the next Taiwanese delicacy, but I thought when in Rome and took a bite. What exactly was I eating? A three layered ice cream concoction. The bottom layer was similar to a green tea sorbet. The top layers, very much not typical American fare in combination—ice cream and kidney beans. That’s right, you heard me: kidney beans (like the kind used in chili and burritos) and ice cream. On top of green tea sorbet. Let me just tell you—after the first dubious bite, I am a believer. It was AMAZING! I honestly think you cannot grasp the concept of kidney bean ice cream until you’ve tried it for yourself. It’s fantastic.
After our culinary side trip, we reached the Tunghai campus. The Tunghai campus deserves a full blog post of its own. I have only glimpsed the surface of the campus today, but let me tell you—as much as I whole-heartedly and sincerely love Florida Tech and our beautiful campus, there are some things Tunghai has that we simply don’t. For example, their dairy farm, whose sole purpose is to produce the fresh milk, ice cream, and yoghurt eaten on campus. Florida is just as hot as Taiwan! I think we deserve our own in-house ice cream production! There has to be space somewhere on campus for a cow or two!
At Tunghai, we briefly met with the program coordinators. That is where I was given my Chinese name, which was an incredibly intimidating process. Eric and I were sent to see a professor, who had us close the door behind us, and then she started to stare, as if she was ripping away every fake layer and every fake façade we had made for ourselves. Finally she decided on Si Wei Ji for Eric, which has a harder interpretation we’re still working on, and Bai Kai Ling for me. Today was technically a free day, so we didn’t stay around the program center for long.
Classes start tomorrow, and I have a thousand more observations about Taiwanese life that I want to share! But I’m going to be here for three weeks, so you’ll just have to keep tuned to find out some other truly different aspects of Taiwanese life, and why I felt like a rock star after fifteen minutes in Taiwanese culture.
Bye bye for now, or as they say in Taiwan—Zai Jian!