Taiwan | Adventures in Food and Couch Surfing in Taichung


Whenever I told someone who had been to Taiwan before that I was studying there for a semester, a response I got from every single person was,

“Oh my God the food there is amazing.”

And having been in Taiwan for a little under two weeks I can confirm that yes, the food here is absolutely amazing. At first I was a bit skeptical, because the food is sold from vendors who set up small carts on the side of the road, selling a variety of items from dumplings to sweet potato balls to grilled steak to squid on a stick. The prices are also ridiculously reasonable which, at first, raises a few flags and occasionally makes me wonder where exactly the meat comes from and whether there’s any sort of health inspection process that goes along with selling food from these carts. However, then you taste the food and think, “eh, I suppose I can overlook the numerous sanitary violations that would probably not pass in the U.S.”

Along with the street food, I also had the opportunity to eat at some pretty… interesting establishments, one in particular called Modern Toilet located in Ximen. Now, the name of the restaurant could be misleading but trust me, it’s not. At Modern Toilet restaurant not only do you sit on toilets, but you also eat your food out of tableware representing all things related to the restroom. However, if the bathroom is a place that makes you feel queasy, then urine trouble because this place has all things dealing with the toilet life. (Let’s just take a moment to appreciate my previous pun.)

However in my opinion, some of the best foods here in Taiwan are found in the night markets. Night markets are essentially the Costco of street food except you don’t need a silly membership card to enjoy the free samples. One of the biggest night markets in Taiwan is located in the city of Taichung (台中)—a city two hours south of Taipei by train. During the long weekend a few friends and I hopped on the train and headed south hoping for less rain and warmer weather. Thankfully there was no rain, but it was still crazy cold in Taichung (and by crazy cold I mean around 55˚F). However, things warmed up once we reached the large crowd at the Feng Chia (逢甲) night market. To sum it up, Feng Chia night market encompasses three to four blocks each connected by numerous smaller alleyways with countless food stands and small clothing stores selling items for marvelously cheap prices. The only problem with this place is a) the massive crowd that swarms in around 5:00 pm. b) the myriad of food options—whether to get the duck bao or the fried tofu skewers (then, in the end, deciding on getting both) and c) having to practice self control because how the heck do you say no to a custard filled pancake wheel?

And the answer is you don’t, because it’s magically delicious.

Another one of the most famous tourist locations to visit in Taichung is the Rainbow Village. It’s not actually an entire village, more like a small clustering of tiny shelters next to a playground, but it was pretty adorable and even more impressive, the entire village was entirely painted by one man.

Overall, the weekend trip to Taichung went extremely well except for when we tried to check into the hostel we booked only to find out that our room had been double booked and thus, we had no place to stay at night. Normally, this problem is easily resolved by simply booking a room at another nearby hostel or Air B&B. However everything, and I mean absolutely everything was booked. At one point, I tried begging the dorm advisors at a local University to let us stay in an open dorm or in one of the lounges for the night. We even considered staying in a 24/7 KTV (karaoke room) for the night—an idea that I was actually very willing to try, and probably will end up trying just for fun.

In the end, one of my friends got in contact with someone from couch surfing. I’ll be honest, when we arrived at the location of the given address, I was extremely skeptical and was considering going to the KTV alone for a solo karaoke adventure, but it was already midnight and everyone was already tired from the previous events of the day. We entered the place and were immediately greeted by the smell before anything else. The place smelled entirely of stinky tofu, and for those that don’t know what stinky tofu is, it’s a traditional Chinese dish that tastes pretty good but smells like absolute garbage, like literal garbage. We were then greeted by a lady and a nine-year-old girl who immediately starts to make conversation with us in surprisingly well-versed English. The lady, whom we called 阿姨 (A yi–Aunty) seemed aghast that there was six of us, but regardless lead us upstairs to a small room with numerous blankets and pillows on the floor. The six of us crammed side by side on the floor in a space that was perhaps a little big larger than a king sized bed while the girl, 妹妹 (mei mei—little sister), talked with us until 2 am.

Mei mei introducing us to her pet mouse

Staying with A Yi and Mei mei was perhaps my favorite part of this weekend trip, getting to stay with a local Taiwanese family in a room above a stinky tofu shop. It really doesn’t get more authentic than that. This experience has once again reminded me of the kindness and generosity that Taiwanese people show towards foreigners.

Hailey Motooka studied abroad in Taipei, Taiwan, in Spring 2017: http://eap.ucop.edu/OurPrograms/taiwan/Pages/national_taiwan_univ.aspx

Taiwan | Discovering Taiwan


I got off of the airplane having to pee badly. Like, very badly. I ran off the plane, through the gate, and into the nearest bathroom only to find out a) it was one of the squat toilets that basically resembles a hole in the ground and b) what the heck there was no toilet paper. If culture shock was a person, I had just been physically slapped in the face right then and there. So my first tip to any future travelers to Taiwan: buy your own toilet paper. Or, start practicing the “sit and shake” method because it really is a useful skill to have if you aren’t keen on carrying a roll in your bag.

The dreaded hole in the ground toilet

你好(Hi), my name is Hailey Motooka. I am a third year majoring in Biology and minoring in Asian Languages and I am currently attending the National University of Taiwan (NTU). I wanted to write this blog so that I may share my story with anyone who is interested in studying abroad in Taiwan, or anyone interested in studying abroad at all. I was born and raised in Hawai’i on the most fantastic little island, Oahu, and (in my unbiased opinion) it is one of the best places in the world. However, since it is a pretty isolated place in the smack dab middle of the Pacific Ocean, exposure to people from various cultures is rather limited. For this reason, I am more than ecstatic to be able to spend a semester here in Taiwan and immerse myself in this unique environment.

Before I left for Taiwan, however, I had to do a lot of preparation. I’m about to go into some logistical boring stuff so bear with me, folks, because I’m required to talk about this. Here are the main items:

  1. Passport—Now, this may seem obvious but for those of you that do not have a passport, or need to renew your passport like I did, the process can take up to eight weeks so prepare in advance.
  2. Health Forms—If you are traveling through the UCEAP program, they go over in extensive detail how to complete these. However, just a heads up that the NTU health clearance form requires a physical as well as a chest x-ray, both of which can be completed at the Ashe Center or with your local physician.
  3. Visitors Visa—The process to get a visitor’s visa doesn’t take nearly as long as a passport (around 1-2 weeks), but it does require the following items:
    1. Passport
    2. Acceptance letter from the University
    3. Travel itinerary—both departure AND return date
    4. Two recent passport sized photos
    5. Bank statement
    6. Visa application itself

Another thing I had to do before I left was sign up for my classes. This was probably the most stressful part for me because there wasn’t a lot of information on how the process worked, and all I remember thinking was “how am I supposed to physically fight people for my classes like I do here at UCLA when the other students are an entire ocean away?” Like, I couldn’t even bribe people to hold my spot in the classes I needed. Thankfully, getting classes at NTU isn’t nearly as competitive as getting classes at UCLA. Also, there’s an entire week after school starts that allows you to add and drop classes in case you don’t get the classes you need during the first and second registration periods. So don’t worry, there’s no need for violence or bribing of any sort! The orientation during the first week of school is also very informative and almost all questions will be answered during that time.

Orientation held for all International Students

Registration for UCEAP students

Once my classes were picked, however, everything else is very simple and UCEAP does a great job of making sure that you are prepared for the trip. The only thing that I was worried about was whether or not I would be able to make friends. I came to Taiwan not knowing a single person, which thinking back on it was probably the best parts about coming here. But don’t get me wrong, the idea of having no friends freaked me out at first, especially when I stepped on campus, had no idea how to get to my dorm with all my suitcases, and no one to call or ask for help. Thankfully, when I asked a student walking by if he could point me in the right direction, not only was he able to speak English but he also helped me carry one of my suitcases. Shout out to Gino, you’re probably never going to read this but dude, you’re the real MVP. It turns out that most Taiwanese people, despite their shy demeanor, are incredibly nice and helpful and very accommodating towards foreigners.

The dorms that I’m currently living in are the Guo Ching dorms. Now, I’m not going to complain about my living situation because I already did that for the first two days I was here, but the other dorms, the ShuiYuan Prince dorms, located on the complete opposite side of campus are more ideal (in my opinion). At first I didn’t like the idea of sharing a bathroom and shower with a whole floor of people as if I was reverting back to freshman year all over again. Not to mention the fact that there’s only one–THAT’S RIGHT ONLY ONE—toilet paper roll that runs out every Wednesday and gets refilled every Monday. So yeah, investing in toilet paper is key. On the bright side, the Guo Ching dorms do have a laundry room on every floor, a 7/11 right outside, as well as a restaurant and gym on the basement floor. It’s also significantly cheaper than the ShuiYuan Prince dorms if finances are a concern.

Interior of the GuoChing dorms

Some of the food served at the restaurant in the basement floor

Majority of international students are also assigned to the ShuiYuan dorms, so the atmosphere and dynamic between local and international students in the Guo Ching dorm is a bit different as well. It just means that you get to practice your Chinese more. But on the first day I moved in, the dorms were fairly empty so I decided to wander around the campus. Let me just tell you, the campus is absolutely stunning. One of the professors mentioned how she thought that National Taiwan University is one of the most beautiful universities in the world, and at the time, I remember thinking, “yikes, that’s bold you clearly have never been to UCLA”. However, as I meandered around the campus I stumbled upon beautiful ponds and greenhouses tucked away between buildings that are quite unlike any American university I have every been to before.

Eventually I got lost and ended up hopping onto a tour for international students. The tour was just ending so I didn’t really get an actual tour of the campus, per say, but it was here where I made my first friends. Most international students find themselves in the same boat in terms of not knowing anyone in Taiwan; so most people make an effort to put themselves out there. Like I said before, I was born and raised in Hawai’i so I was excited to travel and meet people from different places, but never in my life did I think I would become friends with people from Ghana, Croatia, Luxemburg, Australia, Spain, and so many other places that I am unable to point out on the globe mostly because my geography is lacking.

First day in Taiwan with the international tour group in front of the Main Library

People say all the time that they want their study abroad experience to be “life changing”, and of course I do too. I mean, who doesn’t want to come back from the study abroad travels feeling like a changed person? But realistically, I don’t think my life will be completely turned around, and I don’t think I will arrive at some epiphany that the world is somehow a better place now that I have lived somewhere other than America for six months. However, I do think that I will learn a lot and–in the words of one of the greats, Kylie Jenner—2017 will be the year of just, like, realizing stuff. And I hope I do realize a lot of…stuff, and I hope to try new things and meet new people and explore new places and most importantly I hope that you all keep on reading because I promise, it only gets better from here.

Hailey Motooka studied abroad in Taipei, Taiwan, in Spring 2017: http://eap.ucop.edu/OurPrograms/taiwan/Pages/national_taiwan_univ.aspx

Sweden | Eight Things to Know About Food in Lund, Sweden

  1.  Fika is a must.

Sweden is known for their love of fika. Fika is a break during the day when you enjoy a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and a small pastry. Swedes have fika sometimes two to three times a day. Fika is usually offered at most club events, and even a lot of Swedish people take a break during the business day to enjoy a warm cup of coffee and dessert. I personally recommend a hot chocolate and a warm cinnamon bun. (Cinnamon buns are so popular that they even have a day—October 4th—dedicated to celebrating them!)

2. For Cheap Food, Go to The Nations

The nations are student organizations that run bars, clubs, sittnings (3 course meals), brunches, and lunches. These meals are open to all students who have joined a nation, which most students do within their first few weeks in Lund. There, you can get lunch starting at 30SEK, a brunch buffet starting at 40SEK, and a three course meal for about 120SEK. They have all sorts of food including: falafel, soup, Swedish desserts, waffles, burgers, and shakes. Practically every day, the nations have some event running where you can grab a bite to eat. You’re bound to find a nation that has food you love!

3. Swedish Cuisine Is Hard to Find

I have been in Sweden for about 3 weeks and have only seen one place that serves traditional Swedish food—Ikea. In Lund, I’ve seen American food, Italian food, Mediterranean food, Japanese food, and even Bulgarian food, but no Swedish food. So unless you want to travel to Malmö, don’t expect to be eating too much Swedish food, unless you want to make it yourself. While Swedish desserts are easy to find, actual Swedish meals are quite rare here.

4. Go To A Taste of Sweden

If you want to try Swedish food and don’t want to make it yourself or travel to Malmö, definitely go to A Taste of Sweden during orientation. You can try everything from caviar from a tube to sour milk to pickled herring. While not all the food may not be to your liking, you should definitely step out of your comfort zone and try all the dishes they offer at the event. Where else are you going to try reindeer meat cheese from a tube? The sweet potato mash and a ground beef dish resembling meatloaf with cabbage were two of my favorites. The sour milk, on the other hand, is definitely an acquired taste. It’s a small creamy side resembling yogurt, except its not sweet, so it’s like a blend between sour cream and yogurt. Even if you don’t think you’ll like a dish, I recommend trying it because you don’t know when you’ll have another chance.

5. You Don’t Look Far For Great Restaurants

Burgers, falafel, and pizza places are on every corner here in Lund. Often, you don’t even have to go to a separate restaurant to find these. There are shops that sell both falafel and burgers and pizza shops that serve pizza and burgers. It’s great for friends with different food preferences! I recommend trying Lundafalafel. They serve kebabs, falafel, and burgers, and they are open until 4am on the weekends. It’s a must have late night snack for people in Lund.

6. Not All Restaurants Have English Menus

While most people in Lund speak English, very few restaurants have English menus. It is not unusual to see menus entirely in Swedish. This leaves you with four options. One: learn Swedish, or at least basic Swedish food items. Two: ask the staff. The people working at the restaurant are usually more than happy to translate the menu for you, but I wouldn’t ask them to translate every item on the menu to you—that could get awkward. Three (my favorite!): use a translation app. These can usually translate the bulk of the words, but it isn’t perfect. There will still be some things that you have zero idea what they are—even Google can’t always save you. Four: be adventurous and just try something! All the food I’ve had at restaurants in Lund so far have been amazing. You can’t really go wrong with anything you choose!

7. American Food Is Easy to Find

If you are homesick—don’t worry—you can find American food here. Lund has a Burger King, a McDonalds, and lots of Subways. If you are craving some fried chicken, Malmö is home to a KFC. Malmö also has a Pizza Hut and Dominos. If your map app tells you that there is a Pizza Hut in Lund, don’t believe it. I walked across town while craving Pizza Hut, but there was no Pizza Hut there, just another pizzeria in its place. The pizza was absolutely amazing, but it was still disappointing not to have found Pizza Hut. Unfortunately, if you are missing Americanized Mexican food, you’re out of luck. There are no Taco Bells, Qdobas, Chipotles, or Del Taco, so fill up before you come. Even Mexican food ingredients are hard to find. It took days of searching to find black beans, and the Mexican cheese blends do not taste the same as back in the States.

8. Candy Stores Have An American Section

Missing Reese’s or Snapple Tea? You won’t have to go too far to find them in Lund. Most candy shops feature an American section that lets you find most of your favorites. Half of the display is usually devoted to different kinds of Reese’s products, which I am grateful for. The most entertaining thing of the America section is definitely some of the names. Want Cool Ranch Doritos? You won’t find them here—they are called “Cool American Flavour.” I highly recommend visiting the candy shops here whether it is to stock up on your favorite Swedish and American snacks or even if its just to see what Swedish people think of American junk food.

Christine Pahel studied abroad in Lund, Sweden, in Spring 2017: http://eap.ucop.edu/OurPrograms/sweden/Pages/lund_univ.aspx

Sweden | Orientation Weeks


Beep! Beep! Beep! I heard my alarm energetically call to me. Battling jet lag, I was not as enthusiastic to get up early in the morning. However, it was Wednesday—time to meet the faculty. It was the second day of welcome week, where department coordinators introduced students to their departments, and students finished registering for classes. Do not skip these meetings—no matter how tempting sleep may be—because they are essential to finish formally enrolling in your classes. Each major department holds their own meeting, so if you are taking multiple disciplines while abroad, you’ll have to go to more than one meeting. Since I am taking Political Science and Psychology while here, I attended both the Faculty of Social Science’s registration meeting and the Department of Political Science’s meeting. Below is a picture of one of the buildings in Paradise (Paradis), which is where the majority of the social science buildings are located.

That night was the Welcome Reception in the University Main Building (Universitetshuset). Located in the center of town, the cream exterior of the building contrasted with the black night’s sky. The top of the building has two gargoyles with human faces on either side. A large fountain sits directly center of the front of the building. Even though it was turned off because of the chilling weather, it still had a commanding presence. Nearly every day, I pass this building during my journey through town, and every day I am stunned by how gorgeous it is. I cannot wait to finally see the fountain turned on in front of it, and the plants on either side of it blooming in the springtime weather. Below I attached a picture of it in the daylight. While it is gorgeous at night, it is difficult to make out the finer details of the building in a photograph.

The inside of the building was equally impressive. Chandeliers lined the main room from the entrance to the stage. If you looked up, you could see the artfully crafted ceiling, which was painted in a pattern of beige, tan, and blue. The night started with a selection of traditional songs from Lund University’s Male Choir (Lunds Studentsångförening). According to the conductor, this choir is the oldest in Sweden, and their talent certainly spoke to that honor. While it is difficult to understand the lyrics, since most of the songs were purely in Swedish, the choir’s tones melded together in a beautiful arrangement of music. After a great round of applause from the audience, the host, the Vice Chancellor, welcomed the exchange students to Lund University. A university, he stated, that was created after the conquest of Skåne from Denmark. Skåne, the county Lund resides in, was given a university in order to aid in making the newly acquired territory loyal to the Swedish Crown. After the Vice Chancellor’s speech, we retired into the grand entrance room for some small desserts, sparkling cider, and light beer. There, exchange students had a chance to mingle with each other. When it seemed like the evening was almost over, a student joke band burst in and entertained us, giving us one last taste of Swedish student life before heading back home.