Taiwan | Hiking in Taiwan


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:

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:

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: