These past few weeks have been quite the whirlwind now that school has started. It’s easy to forget about the actual “study” aspect of studying abroad, but nonetheless I’m ultimately here to learn—or at least, try my best to learn.

It turned out that acquiring the classes that I needed that had the potential to transfer for credit back at UCLA was harder than I thought. First of all, I’m a science major, and unfortunately there are few science classes offered at NTU that are taught in English. For this reason, I had to look into taking a few courses taught in Chinese (and used an English textbook). During the very first week of school I must have sat in on ten different classes just trying to figure out which courses I was going to take. Thankfully, the first week of school is designed for this and students are allowed to add and drop courses freely once given the professor’s consent. The down side to this, however, is that the professor’s here are very elusive; they’re like legendary Pokemon, and if you don’t go through the physical act of tracking them down you’re never going to catch em’ (all).

Since school takes up majority of my time during the weekdays, I try to make the most of the weekends in terms of getting out of or going around Taipei. And the thing is this is so easy to do thanks to the great public transportation system they have here. The MRT—something similar to the subway—is downright magical. It’s fast, cheap, extremely efficient, and it makes traveling around Taipei veritably easy, allowing for me to try out a multitude of local activities.

One of the activities that many local people of all ages enjoy doing is hiking. So far I have hiked Elephant mountain (象山), Emperor’s Palace (皇帝殿), and Teapot mountain (茶壺山). Elephant Mountain is the easiest and most accessible since it is conveniently located right next to Taipei 101. It offers a great view of the city and the hike only takes about fifteen minutes. The only downside to this hike is that it can get extremely crowded during the weekends, particularly during sunset hours. Emperor’s Palace was long but worth the view. The hike overall took about 4-5 hours yet I found that people of all ages can be found on the trails. It was quite impressive, children around nine years old as well as ladies in their sixties all doing the same hike. It was also a little depressing, though, because it only reminded me of how out of shape I am.

Emperor’s Palace Hike

Teapot Mountain is located right outside the Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park. You have to go through the park in order to get to the start of the hike, which is really convenient because the gold park itself is also very cool to peruse around. This hike has probably been my favorite thus far since it’s moderately easy, but also provides a stunning view of the ocean as well.

Teapot Mountain is also only a short ride away from Jiufen and Shifen. For any Hayao Miyazaki fans out there, Old Jiufen Street actually inspired the town that can be seen in Spirited Away. The narrow alleyway lined with numerous storefronts and food carts can get fairly crowded at nighttime, but fighting the crowd is worth it in order to experience the luminescent red lanterns that are lit every night.

All of the hikes that I have been on so far have only assured me of the knowledge that Taiwan truly is a unique place geographically speaking as well. There are very few places in which one can experience a bustling city as well as a tranquil rurality only a thirty-minute bus ride away. While the city is home to many corporations and an abundance of both local and foreign food and clothing shops, the rural part of Taiwan is home to many of the local aborigines who have inhabited the island long before the Han immigration in the 17th century. Coming down from the Emperor’s Palace hike, I came across a group of local aborigines playing a few games. They all looked to be over fifty years old, but as we were coming down the mountain listening to the uproar of laughter and competitive shouts, I remember telling my friend, “wow, I bet there’s some intense middle school soccer game going on right now.”

However upon seeing that the crazy laughter and noises was not in fact coming from some sort of children’s sports match, but rather a bunch of old people jumping around with balloons between their legs, I was blown away. Not only were these people absolutely hilarious to watch, they were also so incredibly kind and friendly and offered my friends and I food just after we had finished our long hike. They even offered to let us participate in the relay races with them to which I obviously obliged. I mean, when I grow old and eventually retire amongst the Taiwanese aborigines it’s important that I get a head start by familiarizing myself with their games.

Since there is so much to do in Taipei alone it is easy to forget that there are numerous other cities with so much to offer, and so much of the natural landscape of Taiwan that can be traversed. That is why I am thankful for all the people I have met and friends that I have made thus far (both local and foreign) for their eagerness to simply go out and explore.

Hailey Motooka studied abroad in Taipei, Taiwan, in Spring 2017: