Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Taipei - A city that speaks for itself...


It’s never easy to visit a city for a few days.  Such was my experience last weekend.  Having settled fairly well into Hong Kong University (HKU), it’s been strange boarding another plane to visit another nearby destination.  I’ll admit, it’s been tiring as I haven’t stopped travelling since June, but the last three days have been worth it, even if it involved extreme drowsiness, aching legs and almost falling asleep on the MRT (Taiwan’s version of HK’s MTR). 

This trip was quite interesting as our total group size was around 25.  Some of us left on Friday morning, whilst others came the next day.  Having a group of over 20 young travellers proved to be quite an interesting logistical task, and there were expected moments when we got lost.  It’s always hard to manage a group of that size, especially when there is no ‘leader’.  Perhaps that's why it worked so well.  We all adopted a flexible approach and went wherever we wanted.  Some visited malls, others checked out the scenery.  Either way, everyone reported having a blast!  We didn’t use phones which I believe was another great thing (yes, can't believe i'm saying that...  As we were there for such a short period, there wasn’t much sense.  Plus, it was more exciting getting lost and then randomly meeting up with people in the group.

My initial thought of Taipei was that it was a large city, full of skyscrapers and built for the 22nd Century… :P  My early picture of Taipei dissipated moments after we landed at the airport.  It was an interesting taxi ride (relatively inexpensive considering the distance).  What immediately stole my attention was that they were building many new roads/bridges on the way to the city.  Roads were large, clean and efficient and more greenery was noticeable.  However, something else kept nagging me: how could I classify Taipei as a city?  I couldn’t figure it out.  Even towards the evening of the first day, I still didn’t know how to place it amongst all of the other Asian cities I’ve visited.  Here are a few quick further observations.


The People
First of all, the citizens of Taiwan seem much more relaxed.  This is quite a generalised statement, but that’s the first impression I received, and it lasted with me for three entire days.  Even in the subways, (despite it being busier than HK at times) everyone seemed to adopt a comfortable walking pace.   What we did find difficult is that the majority of people do not speak english and this can be quite an issue if you’re travelling outside of the city district.  Otherwise, if you learn to smile, remember places with your photographic memory then all will be well!  Just take it as it comes, and you’ll finally get there.  It’s all about the excitement of getting lost and then finding your way around again :)  At least that's what gives me a buzz! 

Transport system
There isn't much to say, except there are a LOT more motorbikes/scooters.  The Cabs/taxis are yellow which is a nice change (and brings back memories of Melbourne, Australia).  The MRT stations are very clean and the lcd screens for trains arriving are better than in HK.  There is a little more seating compared to HK which provides very little if NONE.  Overall, I still prefer HK's MTR, it just has a 'classier' feel to it!

Random fact
It may be random, but it's quite important at times.  If you expect many rubbish bins on the streets, think again.  Very little around and it can be frustrating.  That's why there is quite a lot of litter in some city streets.  

What I would do on my next trip
If I were to be given the opportunity to return to Taipei, I would definitely spend time exploring further outside of the city, visiting places such as the Hot Springs, Tea plantations, Zoo (which has Pandas!) and all of the other markets/malls I hadn’t had time to visit.  I would love to go on a tour outside of the city, to get more of a feel as to how the ‘locals’ live.  Our trip was concentrated around the city, but it’s always worth visiting the outer regions.  That’s when you can begin to draw better descriptions of your experiences!  Lastly, I’d visit the 101 skyscraper again!  Although Taipei does not have many tall buildings as HK and New York and other large cities, it still provides a wonderful view of the city.  See the following pictures below:

The spectacular view!



















General feel of the city
Although Taipei lacks the buzz that HK offers, it is a very unique city.  There are plenty of malls, markets and night markets.  It is a comfortable city to navigate around, although if you need to make certain places at a specific time, don't risk being late and ensure you have a translation of your destination!  I felt comfortable and safe at all times, day and night.  


National Museum - a fascinating place to visit.  I'll write up a blog about it soon...






Hot springs region up north- the HDR is not 'overdone', it really is as blue and clear as this!!!


 It really is tall!


 Taipei 101 has to be one of my favourite skyscrapers.  It is perfectly designed!

Night markets

Tapei remains a city that I find difficult to describe compared to others such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, New York and many others…  It has a very unique identity that sets it apart from the rest.  The best I can do is say that it’s somewhere in-between Hong Kong and Singapore.  It’s more spacious, more people-friendly but not the easiest destination for tourists to navigate around.  It’s somewhere you need to visit in order to grasp a better understanding of the city and the way it operates...


To finish the blog, I’ll leave you with something ‘special’ three of us experienced on our first night in the city.  All of us were guys, but we stopped here for a good 15 minutes despite running to catch a train.  It was an emotional moment, and we seemed to draw a bigger crowd.  They were dogs up for adoption, and being there at that moment while they lay there panting and close to each other brought a tear to our eyes...  The last photo says it all… 













If I only took these sequence of photos during my entire trip, I would have been very happy... It was one of those moments that can never be repeated...



Until next time Taipei!!!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The waves at Sai Kung...

Well, today was a day that happened to be a little random.  After waking late and meeting friends for lunch, we spontaneously agreed to visit Sai Kung - an area that I had seen, but not 'experienced'.  I had seen it from above but today I wanted to visit Clearwater Bay beach with some friends.  After finishing a hearty lunch, we set off, hoping to find the right buses which would take us to where we wanted.

It was worth the effort!  Here are some photos from today's visit:

 The scenery is breathtaking.  I can just imagine it here at sunrise...

 Tanning, beach games, you name it!
Today was a day off so the beach was packed!!!  We waited for a long time to get back on the bus, which had queues of people lined up.
 Some areas were a little dirtier than expected - but away from the beach, towards the rocks...
 Now I understand why this beach and area is called 'Clearwater Bay'...
 My friend Jeffrey shooting away...

 We climbed to the tops of the rocks.  It was a wonderful view from there!
 Clearwater Bay beach provided a great atmosphere.  Repulse bay (which I will post about at a later date) is also a fantastic beach, but I think this is my favourite so far!
I thought these photos were the best to end this post with.  
No matter have big or small the waves, keep at them, chase you goals and dreams...

Hopefully we can all walk away satisfied with a lucky catch!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The beginning of my Journey in HK

I'm glad that I finally have a moment to sit down and unwind from my arrival and - i guess you could call it - 'introduction' to Hong Kong (HK) and the lifestyle it offers.  I'll keep everything in subheadings so it'll be easy to read...

Arrival into HK

Unlike most of the exchange students, I did quite a bit of traveling around Asia with my dad prior to starting my semester in Hong Kong.  Most students arrived by plane, whereas I was in Singapore, Malaysia, Macau then Hong Kong.  Macau was my last 'holiday' destination and then I arrived by Ferry into the HK port.  The trip itself is very close to 1 hour and is a fantastic way to arrive into the harbour.  To this day, I think I took for granted just how amazing the weather was the first 3-4 day since my arrival.  Clear blue skies, and dramatic sunsets.  Unfortunately, it has been hazy since.  Either it is less humid, or I'm finally beginning to adjust to it.  Either way, of course you may find it's better to find a change of clothes and 'freshen up'.  It just means you probably have to do twice as much laundry, but it's totally worth it!  Since my arrival, I have found it difficult to communicate back to Australia as I'm always out.  Yes, that's right...  Breakfast, lunch, dinner and usually still walking around doing activities with hall mates and other friends (even up to 3am...).  It's probably not the best lifestyle (i'm very aware of that) but some things you just have to accept.  I do notice my hall mates (and myself) enjoy sleeping in and then running down to University, just to step in at 11:01a.m.!

Arrival to Hong Kong University (HKU)

Apart from the fact that students are stressing due to the add/drop period at Univerity, all in all, it's a fabulous campus.  Many of us complain about the location of the University because it is very high up in the mountains.  Not the highest mountains, mind you, but they sure are steep!  I don't think I'll ever walk down to the harbour, as the buses and taxis are cheap and extremely efficient.  

Transport

The last sentence brings me to the public transport.  The only thing that has been circling my mind for the last few weeks is:  Why is Australia (apparently a very 'well-developed' country...) behind in such infrastructure?  The government pumps millions of dollars into research, (feasibility studies) where it could be spending this for actual building and development (let alone helping the starving people on our streets).  What seems ironic is that (i'm yet to discover if this is completely true) Australia is helping in the production of the HK MTR (trains).  Why then has it been so hard to implement this in our country?  It's not only Australia, many other countries face this too.  Nonetheless, the point that remains is that Hong Kong as a city 'works' because not only has the government helped to develop such an amazing and well-integrated network, but citizens help it flow because they know how to live, walk and talk efficiently.  Weather it rains or shines, the MTR is alive, running and almost always on time…

Weather

Speaking of raining and shining, as I mentioned a little earlier, HK’s weather was beautiful at the start.  I do regret I didn’t see enough mountain views or visit enough beaches, but I can safely say that I’ve seen a LOT!  I do hope the weather will pick up, and hopefully no typhoons will come to the city.  Although, it would be interesting to see how the city reacts to such an event. 

Friendships

Arriving at HKU in the first day or two seemed a little daunting.  Stepping into my hall, there was quite a bit of paperwork to fill out and plenty of ‘deposits’ to put down for the strangest of things ie. An airconditioning card.  The idea is that you ‘buy credits’ by paying the office cash.  These credits are literally stored on a plastic card and then inserted into a little machine in our rooms.  In other words, you get as much as you pay for.  Strange system, I know, but it seems to work.  The only problem is that when it’s the weekend, the office is shut and you have to wait until Monday morning.  Here, locals freak out when this happens.  They live with airconditioning on 24/7, and HK air-conditioning seems the coldest around…  It is really freezing!  I’m still getting used to sleeping in VERY cold aircon.  How this section went from ‘friends to aircon’…. Haha…. Let’s get back on track, why don’t we!!!  Ok, so the hall is great and there is a good mix of locals and internationals staying in my hall.  Apparently 30% of this hall consists of exchange students – I’m yet to prove that statistic to be true…   Although, you do seem to meet a new person every day or two…  My hall mates are very nice.  When I first arrived, I only got smiles and I was under the impression that they didn’t speak much english.  I gave them a week or so and they spoke better english than some of the kids back home (jokes, jokes…) but I got a bit of a shock.  I was further amused when lectures started and they actually began contributing!!!  I couldn’t believe it.  Some of them are SUPER fluent!!!  They’re like another person altogether…
Ofcourse, being an exchange/international student means that you generally stick to other internationals.  I always wondered why the international students in my high school and Melbourne University stick so close together.  Finally, I can say that I understand their situation completely!  You can relate, you can speak your language 24/7 and you have many things in common.  That’s not to say that we all hang around in the same group everyday, but you form small ‘going out’ groups.  In general, all of the internationals are nice.  All of the people I’ve met are great friends.  It’s all about friendships… Actually, I think it’s starting to become:  It’s going to be all about study… after sitting through several lectures.

Food

The food is an experience itself!  You can’t complain about not being able to eat in HK.  If you do:  Shame on you!  Food is on every corner, and when you in the city, food is at every 2nd door.  International food, asian food – whatever tickles your taste buds – you name it, it’s yours!  Sure, there is some wild stuff here that I’d never try, but if you’re brave enough – go for it!  With pricing, it really depends.  Mostly, it’s extremely affordable (or for those who prefer this term: CHEAP!).  You can also experience expensive food, but to be honest – a $2-5AUD meal can sometimes be better than a $3-500 one…  It’s your choice really.

What's ahead?

This is a good question.  Living such a busy life in HK, you sometimes wonder – what will I be doing in a month or two?  A lot of it is playing it by ear, ie. Taking each day as it comes.  Weather is one factor that can restrict you (obviously) but last minute difficulties – such as class registrations can also leave you wondering whether the class you take now, will be the one you end up studying for the rest of the semester.  That may seem strange, but many, (including myself) have already been ‘rejected’ for some classes.  It’s been a mystery to us all, and the departments have been very unclear when trying to explain it.  You just have to cross your fingers, remain calm but talk firmly to the faculties.  It’s frustration I’ll admit, and I certain others are feeling this after talking to them.

The semester will pass quickly and who knows, maybe that’s when my next blog post will be (hopefully not), but I hope to do some travelling here and there.  There are some plans still in the pipeline, but for now it’s heads down into the books.  Oh, how I wish that was true haha :P  Life’s too short living amongst a stack of books and pens.

It’s been wild, it’s been random and it will continue to be busy.  All that I’m grateful is that I have a wonderful group of friends, floor mates and some lecturers (read: some…).
I promise to keep you updated, please feel free to comment on this blog page and ask questions!

For now, I’ll leave you with some photos from a tour we went on.   Hope you like them :P


 A place with bird fanatics...
 Yes, they really do love their birds.  But it's a wonderful thing!  Good on them...


 Ummm... Guys, I'm sorta' stuck here...


 Whether it rains or shines, all umbrellas will be out.  Though I sort of think the umbrella was a bit of an 'excuse' don't you think ;)
 Lean on me...  Was just too cute not to photograph :P
 A few photos of temples.  Unfortunately we could enter any!





 Yes..., that was a restaurant!  Although, there was glass...
Another temple


 The reflection was too good to resist.  Shame the whole road was not covered in water :(

Thanks to our wonderful tour-guide, many new friendships were made :D



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