Bryan in Taipei: 7/11 and an Unexpected Culture Shock

October 18, 2018

 

Crowded 7-Eleven

A really crowded 7-Eleven store during a music festival in Taipei last week

Though it might seem unorthodox, I wanted to dedicate this entire post to 7-Eleven because of how iconic and different it is in Taiwan compared with the chains in the United States. Because of localization, it actually makes for a pretty decent case study into the habits, tastes, and needs of Taiwanese consumers versus American ones. For starters, 7-Elevens are simply everywhere in Taipei and are seldom if ever attached to gas stations. In many areas, you can look down one major street and see multiple of this chain, then turn down another street and see even more. Its major competitor here is FamilyMart, with some Hi-Life stores sprinkled in as well.

Many Taiwanese describe the island as “方便” (convenient), and 7-Eleven certainly contributes to this sense of convenience. In 7-Elevens, you can: refill your bus/metro card, buy train tickets, print passport photos, microwave frozen or refrigerated food, send packages, and pay bills/tickets, just to name a few. Like much of Taiwan, the Japanese influence is evident, this time in the food: items like bento-boxes, instant noodles, and sushi rolls are widely available and quite popular with locals. It’s also worth mentioning that items like the Slurpee are not found here, which is surprising given their popularity in the US but unsurprising given how different the stores in Taiwan and the US are.

7-Eleven X-Store

7-Eleven X-Store in Taipei

One store I ran into here in Taipei (funnily enough, right next to another 7-Eleven) was a concept store called “7-Eleven X.” This futuristic store without cashiers had a larger availability of specialty items (e.g. a cold brew coffee machine and imported chocolate) that could all be purchased using a certain type of card. It was very cool to see how 7-Eleven is innovating here and using its established preeminence to try new ideas and see how they work on the local Taiwanese consumers. Other people seemed as excited and curious about the store as I did, and it was nice to get the opportunity to go inside and check it out. Overall, Taiwan’s 7-Elevens are more similar to and have more influence from those in Japan than those found throughout the US, which was something I wasn’t expecting to learn studying abroad here.


Bryan in Taipei: Exploring Local History

October 5, 2018
Flags (1)

Flags of Spain, the Netherlands, Qing dynasty, Koxinga , U.K., Japan, Australia, U.S., and Taiwan flying at Fort San Domingo.

One of the most exciting parts of living in Taiwan so far has been discovering the many legacies and influences on the island’s rich culture. One of the courses I am taking while here focuses on this history from the arrival of the aboriginal tribes to present. This includes the arrival of the Dutch, the Qing dynasty, the Japanese occupation, and several different phases of history. I decided to go to 淡水 (Danshui, or Tamsui in the Wade-Giles romanticization), which lies just north of Taipei, to check out Fort San Domingo and the British Consulate to see one of the island’s first Western consulates, as well as some traditional Japanese architecture. Though I had the chance to visit the world-famous National Palace Museum, its contents are vast to say the least (it would take 15 years to see all of the items cycled through exhibitions) and pertain more to the history of the mainland than local history.

British Consulate

British consulate in Danshui featuring colonial architecture.

The photo above is the British consulate, which remained in operation for several hundred years. It sits among the top of the hill and neighbors the old Spanish (and later Dutch) Fort San Domingo. It was largely responsible for housing the British consul, who could assist British merchants during trade or British citizens during other matters, and remained in operation until 1972.

Japanese Residence

Residence of Tade Eikichi in Danshui. I had to take off my shoes before I could enter!

Another interesting site in Danshui is the former residence of Tade Eikichi, the township head of Danshui during Japanese rule. The Japanese occupied Taiwan for half a century and their influence is still felt in local cuisine, architecture, and several other customs. The house above is built completely resembling a traditional Japanese home, complete with a porch and a garden as well. This home faces the Guayin Mountain and Danshui River, which still serves as a source of inspiration for local artists to this day.

Guayin Mountain

View of the Guayin Mountain and Danshui River from Tade Eikichi’s residence.

While this post only scratches the surface of this topic, Danshui offers an interesting case-study on how this island came to become an amalgamation of several different cultures and create a unique one in its own right.

Until next time,

Bryan

 


Bryan in Taipei: Orientation and First Week of Classes

September 24, 2018

Orientation

After what seemed like ages, my semester finally kicked off with an orientation for international and semester-exchange students! I got to have a look around the campus and learn about the exchange program and all the student clubs at my school. From the “Traditional Chinese Medicine” club to the “Aboriginal Service Society,” there are a lot of ways for students to get involved on campus and many clubs quite unique to Taiwan. The other international students I have met here have been very open-minded and friendly, with the vast majority coming from European countries. It does feel strange to be the only American sometimes, but it also adds another layer of authenticity to this whole experience – that is, really getting out there and stepping out of my comfort zone from back in the U.S.

Campus

In many ways, I felt like a Freshman again when it was time for the first week of classes to begin. I couldn’t help but use my map to find the correct classroom, but on the bright side I got to practice my Chinese with students and staff when I needed to ask for help! The campus is not too large, but rather elongated, so there is a bus that regularly takes students around campus. There are a whole range of different restaurants nearby that offer lots of good and cheap food, from traditional Taiwanese to Japanese to Malaysian. I must admit it is quite interesting attending a school that is somewhat enmeshed in the city, since even schools like Peking University in Beijing have defined campus boundaries and four “gates” that serve as official entrances. One of my classes is on the 12th floor and offers great views of Taipei 101 and the surrounding mountainous region.

Street_Food

I decided to take classes here related to Taiwan that I wouldn’t be able to take back at Richmond. On top of the obvious Chinese language course, I am also taking a course on Taiwanese History, one on the Historiography of Buddhist Nuns, and an Introduction to Ethnolinguistics course. Classes here are offered in a 3 hour lecture style once a week, which is definitely new for me and will require a little adjustment. One class might even be extended to 4 hours a week to accommodate early-leave! Overall I’m excited to see how these classes turn out and what I can learn about Taiwan.

Sunset_Metro

Bryan


Bryan in Taipei: Arrival and Adjustment Period

September 7, 2018

It’s been a few days since I’ve arrived in Taipei and moved in to my apartment. Upon arriving I almost immediately noticed the towering, bamboo-inspired Taipei 101 in the skyline. My apartment is about a 20 minute walk from it, so it’s a very lively yet local area with lots of restaurants and cafes. Taipei has a very convenient metro and bus system, which makes accessing the rest of the city incredibly easy. Even beaches and mountains are accessible. There are plenty of possible day trips.

Elephant Mountain

My first “hike” here has been up Elephant Mountain. Lots of tourists and locals gather here and spread out on some rocks to see the city. We tried to make it by sunset, but unfortunately we underestimated the amount of stairs going up! The perch overlooks the city and offers a view of Taipei 101 that’s hard to beat.

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung specializes in Huaiyang cuisine (also known as Jiangsu cuisine), which is among the ‘Four Great Traditions’ or schools of classical Chinese cooking

Having travelled to Taipei for a short week when I was 16, I already had a pretty decent idea of the abundance of good food in this city. That being said, I knew my very first meal had to be at the much-acclaimed Din Tai Fung. This restaurant is known for its world-famous Xiaolongbao. It has spread throughout Asia and is even in the United States, but I had to go to the original. It was even better than I had remembered and the service and atmosphere were phenomenal as well.

Skyline

View of Taipei at sunset from a local rooftop restaurant

In retrospect, it was a good decision to come before orientation and school started. I’ve had the opportunity to explore the city and get comfortable with everything before starting classes. I’m excited for the semester to start so I can see more of the school and clubs and activities on campus.

Bryan in Taipei


Bryan in Taipei: Pre-Departure & The Calm Before the Storm

August 31, 2018

To be clear, this title isn’t exactly accurate given how hectic my last few days in the U.S. were, but I thought it would be fitting since it’s rainy season in Taiwan right now.

My name’s Bryan, I’m a History and Chinese Studies double major from Philadelphia, PA. This Fall will be my 3rd abroad experience in East Asia since coming to UR, following two summers of intensive language study with China Studies Institute in Beijing in 2017 and with State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship program in Dalian this past summer. After some careful consideration, I chose the Taipei program for a number of reasons, the most notable being my geopolitical interest in the region as well as the relative independence the program offers. I’m very excited to see how this semester unfolds.

UN_Building_View

View of the Empire State Building from the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

A word of advice to future study abroad applicants: apply for the visa as soon as possible, and make sure to read all of the details closely. I mailed in my visa application in August after returning from two months in China, and I almost didn’t receive it in time. It turns out the office was understaffed and the application volumes were higher than usual. I had to go to the consulate in New York and spent the whole day getting it, but on the bright side I got to visit the United Nations headquarters there! This was a really great experience that got me even more excited to go abroad and learn more about the island of Taiwan and its fascinating history and fusion of cultures. Also, I happened to see an exhibit in Times Square by Taiwanese artist Kang Muxiang, so I recommend checking that out and learning more.

Taiwan_Artist_Exhibit

Instead of being partial to a single work, I decided to show the plaque that explains the exhibit and its intentions.

Looking forward to sharing more!

Bryan In Taipei


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