Last week I had some time off from school prior to midterms, so I decided to travel to the Philippines with two friends from school. I know aha you’re probably thinking right now. Why travel to the Philippines? What’s to see there besides the devastation from the recent natural disaster. This could not be further from the truth!
I specifically focused my travels to the northern island of Luzon. It was the ultimate backpacker’s adventure! We had a brief outline of where we wanted to go, but no reservations. It was a new country, new set of rules. It was really refreshing to just go with the flow and not live such a regimented life packed with from morning to evening. Though we had no true vision of what we wanted to do, we still managed to do as much as possible in the short six days we were there.
The first day we flew into Manila from Hong Kong at around 9 in the morning. We walked on to the tarmac into what has to be one of the smallest international airports in the world. Immigration security is rather lenient. For instance, I went to the bathroom after getting off the plane. After I left the bathroom all the passengers (there were at least fifty) were through immigration with only three booths open. I appreciated the efficiency, but was also kinda scared, not going to lie.
We decided that seeing the UNESCO world heritage rice terraces in Banaue and Batad were necessary, so we planned our day in Manila around the departure of a night bus to Banaue. We took a taxi to the bus station to get our tickets for the night bus and it was in a very urban area. We walked down the street after getting our bus tickets and tried to find a restaurant to get a quick lunch. Naturally you try and find familiar restaurant chains or something that looks marginally appetizing based on the photograph; however, none of these restaurants had anything sort of image paired with the traditional name of each dish. It was basically a gamble. At a certain point, I got tired of aimlessly wandering and wanted to just eat anyway providing it was cheap and not give me food poisoning. We really lucked out with a great little restaurant. Everything was literally homemade since she both slept and worked in the same space. The chicken dish I had was amazing.
Lunch was great, but we had little time to spare. Upon the recommendation of many locals, we visited the old portion of town called Intramuros. As the name implies, it is rich was Spanish influence. I got to roam around the old streets and feel like I was walking through history until I saw a 7 Eleven and realized that this place was commercialized. There was a beautiful church, San Agustin, will amazing architecture, landscaping, and one heck of a choir loft. It looked like they do services there regularly and it’s not just a tourist attraction. It was nearing night at that point, so we had to get back to the bus station. The cheapest form of transportation in Manila and most of the Philippines is by jeepney. They are long jeeps that can hold maybe 14 people and cost a little less than 25 cents to go anywhere. There was huge traffic jam, so bonding with the locals was an experience. Overall, my first day in the Philippines was jam packed full of intense action and this was only the beginning.
Hopefully my videos can further depict the beauty of Manila and the other cities in the Philippines.
Prior to my leaving for the Philippines, Lingnan University organized a fantastic excursion to Tai O, a remote fishing village in Hong Kong. After arriving by bus, we immediately split off into two different groups. My group got to partake in a “beginners” Tai Kwon Do class; however, my quadriceps would disagree that it was for beginnings. The instructor was effortlessly transitioning from one pose to another. It was insane. Unfortunately, I do not have footage of us practicing, but a friend does. Once it’s posted, I will happily procure this video and share it with you. It’s amusing and embarrassing; the perfect combo for a Throwback Thursday post!
After our martial arts work out, we went to a local woman’s home to make sweet peanut dumplings. She demonstrated the proper technique with ease, but given my poor dumpling making record from the Chinese New Year celebration, I knew that my dumplings would not be pretty. Nevertheless, I rolled up my sleeves and began to make some peanut dumplings. Though I’m biased, I’d say taste: 10 and presentation: 4 at best.
My second encounter with dumpling was equally as unforgiving as the first, but the day was still not over. The last portion of our trip was a boat ride through the town and out to the sea. Not only did this trip provide scenic views of the mountains surrounding Tai O, we even got to see a Chinese white dolphin! It was so beautiful and a great way to end a fun day trip to another distinct part of Hong Kong.
This city truly has so much to offer than one would initially assume.
Stay tuned for my posts about my journey throughout the Philippines!
Hey everyone! I’m in the Philippines! I’m bummed that I missed the premier of Survivor 28. I’d much rather be in the country where it was shot though.
Regardless, it’s shocking that I have found wifi, so please bare with me. Video posts of this trip and my trip the Tai O will be up this Monday once I access wifi in Hong Kong.
I still cannot fathom that it has been five weeks already?! Where has the time gone? Furthermore, I’m starting the sixth week and nearing midterms. I guess that I’ve been so busy with classes, excursions and such that I’ve not really stopped to process how much I have actually done in this short amount of time. For those who know me well, this pace of constantly being on the go will continue. It is not a habit adopted since being abroad. For better or for worse, it’s just innate.
With all this extensive traveling to different locations within one specific location as well as traveling to another country for a brief period of time, I have compiled a top five list of tips imperative for one’s study abroad survival.
1. Go With Thy Flow.
I generally consider myself an independent person, willing to just find a way without asking for assistance. However, in the early stages of a study abroad experience, it is imperative to just go with the flow. This strategy enables you to meet other exchange students and locals and they can lead you around the city. It’s essentially taking a free guided tour for the first few days while building solid relationships with students your age. It’s a total win-win! Also, after acquiring the knowledge of what are the local hotspots, good deals, and cheap forms of transportation, you are able to be independent and lead your own smaller group around the area while still sporadically interacting with the group at large.
2. Thou Shalt Eat Uninformed.
As mentioned in prior posts numerous times, I have developed a strategy of eating local cuisine and asking what the food was after the fact. This principle has served me well so far. Would I have eaten sea urchin or pig intestine if I knew what they were prior to eating them? Probably not (even though I’d like to think of myself as some specimen capable of consuming anything without fear.) Alas, that description is not I! The best advice with regard to food is too eat and then ask. I could never go around and brag about the crazy local foods that I have consumed had I known what they were. As the saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss.”
3. Find Thy Partner In Crime.
Whether you know them from your home institution, your exchange program, or meet them at a hostel while traveling, it is essential to find a “partner in crime” to explore the city with you. Angela, the Taiwanese American lady I met in our hostel in Taiwan, is a prime example. She was full of knowledge about the best tourist locations, forms of transportation, and cheap food without sacrificing quality. Those are the individuals you need to meet in order to maximize your experience abroad. Similar to the first tip of Go With Thy Flow, you can utilize this individual for their knowledge of the area and shadow them for a few days and then break off and travel independently. This tip does not require you to travel always with the same person or totally alone at times; just find a buddy to help ease the transition.
4. Thou Shalt Be Limitless.
Similar to the Thou Shalt Eat Uninformed tip, this tip just exemplifies the entire study abroad experience. Don’t have any inhibitions! Simply let go! At home, I like to have structure. I need to know what objectives need to met in order to complete a project properly. I know it sounds pretty sad, but that’s just me. I like organization. I’ve had to cope with a constantly fluctuating schedule while abroad constantly rolling with the punches. Though I yearn for a sense of structure, spontaneity is great too in moderation. I’ve learned that it’s best to just not have a rigid schedule and that with a basic outline of where you want to go, when and how- you are home free.
5. Trust Thy Gut
This topic does not specifically relate to food. In fact, there are numerous situation where I’ve had to use a gut instinct to make a critical decision. While in Taiwan, I was trying to procure a train ticket one night for the next day. Unbeknownst to me, you are unable to purchase tickets days in advance. After navigating to the Taipei Train Station, I realized, “How do I get back to my hostel?” In the United States, my instincts would lead me directly to the “maps” application on my iPhone. Without wifi, this was not a possibility. All I had to go on was a picture I took from the hostel’s balcony the night before on my phone. From there, I used the buildings in the background as landmarks and just walked in certain directions until my surroundings matched those in the picture. I didn’t have a detailed map outlining my route from the train station to my hostel, I didn’t ask anyone, it was pure ingenuity and gut instinct that led my back to my hostel. In short, whenever in any situation, just listen to your gut. Chances are it’s right!
As the title suggests, the main reoccurring theme present throughout my time abroad is that the world seems diverse at a glance. With a keen eye, those seemingly glaring differences are actually rather minor. As people we, in fact, have more in common than we think.
Here’s a great example! Though my home currently resides in Pennsylvania, I was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware- the home of no sales tax, Vice President Joe Biden, and future Survivor contestant, Chris Hickey. I bring up Delaware because its not only the nation’s first state, but also the second smallest. With that, it was even more unlikely that one of the first exchange students I met in Hong Kong, Rasmus from Denmark, was accepted to the University of Delaware. Additionally, his parents recently moved to Newark, Delaware to open a business. How crazy?!! What are the odds?
My luck of meeting people did not run out there. When in Taiwan one night, I was out on the town talking with this girl from Ecaudor practicing my Spanish. A guy with rather long hair enters the conversation. We all then ask where are you studying? Where are you from? He replies with West Virginia University. I was flabbergasted! Given that I was not wearing anything with a flying WV on it or mention WVU at all, this dude was 100% serious. Just to confirm this- I had to get a photo of us with our WVU student ID cards. As the saying goes- Picture or it didn’t happen.
With regard to the broadening of one’s horizons, I have never been the most adamant hiker despite my WVU Mountaineer status. My friend Kasey from Illinois showed me the nicest trail that goes right behind our campus. It has numerous trails providing varying levels of difficulties. Additionally, the views of downtown Tuen Mun were beautiful and I did not even go the entire length of the trail that day.
I plan on going to TaiO, a local fishing town, this Saturday and Dragon Back trail in Hong Kong this Sunday, so I will have an action packed weekend! I hope to continue to broaden my horizons while abroad and continue my newly found love for hiking.
Our last day in Taiwan started with some stormy weather. As previous posts and videos has portrayed, this weather was not foreign. The day begin at the glorious Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. Erected after the passing of Taiwanese President Chiang Kai-shek in 1975, the memorial hall is in the heart of Taipei for all to see. There are two additional government buildings 0n the left and right side perfectly framing the memorial. The rain did not stop the crowds of people from flooding the memorial. I ended up waiting about thirty minutes in one specific area directly behind a red velvet rope in front of Chiang Kai-shek’s statue awaiting the changing of the guard. Stomping their feet with authority and swirling their muskets with precision, the guards moved in unison almost like a dance. It was definitely worth the waiting and standing.
Given the weather, our other options were limited to enclosed places. One of the last places I had not visited yet was the jade market. The market was huge as you’ll see in the video below. It was packed to capacity with strands of beads, semi-precious stones, and jade objects. It was the perfect place to purchase a gift for a loved one! I had a little more fun at the nearby flower and art market where local artists were selling their work. Not only were their pieces original, but you could easily negotiate cheaper prices. Overall, it was a pretty relaxed day as the trip in Taiwan came to a conclusion, but it had lots to offer. I hope in writing this blog you will feel inclined to be more interested in a less touristic location in Asia. From my experiences in Taiwan, the less touristic feeling was quite refreshing. It’s a must see if you’re traveling to Asia!
What an interesting perspective on the essence of studying abroad and cultural immersion!
Originally posted on An Adventure to Jordan:
Global citizenship is a hot topic among a lot of universities in the United States. Students are pushed to study abroad and become “global citizens”. What does this even mean? There are many attempts to define this phrase, but all of them fall short without a lengthy explanation. To me, it has a lot more to it than merely traveling.
There are many people who brag about how many countries they have been to. I’m not going to lie, I love adding a new country to my list. In order to be forming oneself as a “global citizen”, though, being culturally aware is more important than just seeing the sites. Spending less than a week in a country or region will not let one see the culture, the politics, history, sports rivalries, and common foods. One will get a quick overview of “this is our favorite food”, but often the favorite food and the daily foods differ by insane amounts.
If you aren’t paying attention to how people are dressed, you’re doing it wrong. If you only see the area through a camera (or tablet) lens, you’re doing it wrong. If you aren’t paying attention to hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language, you’re doing it wrong.
Every year at the end of Chinese New Year in the mountainous region of Pingxi, Taiwan, there is a traditional lantern festival. On average, 150,000 lanterns are set off at this specific festival in one night. Though it was pouring down rain the night I went, it was remarkable how many people traveled to such a remote location for a three hour festival. Immediately after getting off the bus, you could see people living in a smaller nearby community lighting their own lanterns and sending them off. It was craziness! Everywhere I looked people were letting their lanterns fly into the sky and I had not even arrived at the central location for sending off lanterns.
The great thing about lanterns is that, in contrast to fireworks, they are really safe and do not require a lot of precaution. It’s simply a miniature hot air ballon that you light from underneath and let the fire heat up the lantern. At a certain point, the lantern will naturally defy gravity and go up into the heavens.
At the epicenter of the entire festival, there was a giant stage with local Taiwanese singers performing popular songs such as: “Party Rock Anthem”, “Suit and Tie” , and ironically ”Waka Waka- This is Africa”. Meanwhile, there were many national and international ambassadors in attendance. Every thirty minutes when the largest lantern would go off the distinguished ambassadors and dignitaries would trek through the puddles of rain to write a message on the lantern before send off. Though they had a great view of the entire festival, I don’t think the VIPs had a great time. The event coordinators treated them as VIPs; however, mother nature did not. Needless to say, they seemed a tad frustrated after a sitting outside in constant rain. My none VIP status resulted in low standards and expectations, and thus, I loved the experience despite the weather!
After seeing one of the major send off of lanterns from the festival’s central location, I went back down through the crowds to a small night market. I had an amazing barbecue chicken sandwich, which the man took directly off the kebob. Having real meat was a taste of home! I also got some freshly squeezed orange juice. It’s the small things that make a difference in one’s day. In addition to all the food and drink, there were many lanterns being sold for roughly five US dollars. I was there with four other exchange students, so we split the cost five ways and decorated the lantern. It was a lot of fun writing down wishes for the new year, but also seeing others even though I couldn’t read most of them. Some of the students I was with speak Turkish or French and wrote their messages in their native language. It was fun having the only lantern lacking Mandarin Chinese on it! Sending off our lantern was a great symbolic representation of the ending of a great night and Chinese New Year.
With one day left in Taiwan, there was still many places to see.
Jewelry lovers- This one’s for you- My final post about my trip to Taiwan takes you to a huge jade market (among other less jewelry related places)!
Hope you’re loving Taiwan as much as I did.
Our third day in Taiwan started off with a quick trip to the National Palace Museum. According to its information center, Mainland China has attempted to take over the museum since it contains ancient Chinese artifacts dating back to 4200 BC. The line to get a guided tour in English was rather long. Given the steep price, our group decided opted for the self-guided tour. I personally loved the modern mixed media exhibit since it was a breath of fresh air amongst dated period pieces. The museum had floors full of traditional paintings, calligraphy, rare books and documents, ceramics, bronze, and jade. I loved the jade section the most since there is so much history associated with the precious gem. It was believed to symbolize beauty, purity, and justice. Additionally, jade is thought to be a calming force and prevent illness, hence why jade is prevalent in both the homes and styles of many members of Chinese descent.
For the rest of the day, we travelled to the near edge of the city’s limits to hike up Elephant Mountain. Noted on numerous travel websites and hiking blogs, Elephant Mountain is a moderately difficult hike with a fantastic view of downtown Taipei. As we were hiking up the mountain, the weather started to turn from party cloudy to full on fog with some rain. After going about halfway to our final destination, there was no turning back. At each turn I peered through the trees and bushes to see how the city looked. Naturally, the higher I traveled up the mountain, the foggier it was. At the end of the trail, there was a long bench with a roof overtop. As someone who always overpacks, I conveniently had a deck of cards in my backpack. Two members of our group decided to hike back down the mountain to get us food and we played cards waiting for the fog to pass. It was a lot of fun, especially better than watching the fog pass by just for one photo.
The last major highlight of the day was visiting Taipei 101. About a fifteen minute walk after descending down the mountain, directions to the Asia’s tallest building were not necessary. In fact, it is the world’s second tallest building next to the Burj Khalifa. Though the internet disagrees with this claim, the building advertises itself as such. Somebody’s lying…
I thought, “Just walk towards the tall structure and you’ll be in relative proximity to it. Just looking up at their world trade center was daunting. It just kept going and going until it was completely masked by the clouds. Once inside, there were a dozen computers sectioned off in one corner of the main floor for you to look through the company directory and call them in hopes of being granted permission to visit their offices and floor. For instance, KPMG had about six consecutive floors, so if you had a buddy that could get you access, you could get to the eightieth floor without paying the $200 fee to see the great views. None of us had any immediate contacts working at Google, KPMG, or local firms to get us that premium (and free) access, so we decided to go back another day since the foggy weather clouds your view of the city.
As usual, we went to another night market to explore local cuisine at a great price. It was another great opportunity to interact with the locals of Taiwan. Overall, the Taiwanese people seem to be extremely generous and helpful. One man in the market looked for the ripest fruit in his entire shop for us to buy. He then proceeded to give us directions to another nearby market, but typed it into a mobile translator since he couldn’t speak English. There were other customers waiting, but this man took the time to help us as much as possible. His grace was not entirely shocking given past encounters with local Taiwanese people. They’re just kind, altruistic people from my experience.
The first night in our hostel I was fortunate enough to meet a very kind lady named Angela. Born and raised in Taiwan and now a San Francisco native, Angela provided great travel advice especially catering to foreigners. She had so much enthusiasm helping our group plan our next few days that she even invited us to venture to Wulai, Taiwan with her and her Australian friend Peter. Under Angela’s leadership, we managed to arrive at Wulai with perfect weather and a manageable crowd.
Immediately stepping off the bus your body was just overcome by the surrounding nature. Unlike Hong Kong, Wulai provided this majestic hideaway from city life with its beautiful mountain ranges, flora and fauna, and natural hot springs. Given its remote location, it was not as congested with tourists or locals; however, you still felt as though you were at a village and experiencing a local community’s culture. It was quite a refreshing break from all the crowds!
After wandering through the local markets and dining on cheap (but AMAZING) street food, we naturally had to go to the hot springs. Unfortunately there was not really any overt signage indicating where the hot springs were located, so we just had to rolls up our jeans and test the waters for ourselves. The first location, which was rather populous, had one small concentrated pool of hot water about one foot in diameter with all the surrounding water cold as all get out! Some boys in our group decided to endure the frigid temperatures and ride the current downstream to the hot springs. I, however, proceeded to laugh and walk instead.
The hot springs were so calming despite numerous older gentlemen thrusting jugs of scalding water at their bodies for hours. I also got to interact with local children who loved following foreigners around. We were like animals in a zoo to them. They spoke rather good English and loved talking with us.
It just reminded me that this trip is less about how many countries you visit or sights you see, but the people that you meet. The people are the ones that make a truly lasting impact.