The Taiwan I Know -- By Ruston Pack

            When I told others that I, an Anglo-Saxon American, was going to Taiwan, people would always ask me, ¡§What's in Taiwan?¡¨  My response was usually, ¡§I don¡¦t know but I¡¦ll tell you when I come back.¡¨  Now that I have enjoyed ¡§The Taiwan Experience,¡¨ I can answer that question much more effectively.  In the 2001 Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair, I competed in the Mathematics Category.  My project was given a sweepstakes prize sponsored by the Tsunah Foundation.  The prize I received was an all expense paid trip to Taiwan.  I was going to travel the country of Taiwan with a group of college students. 

            When I finally did arrive in Taiwan, I felt some jet lagged but I was none-the-less ready to start the tour.  When I met the other participants of the tour, I felt instantly a part of the group.  Because I was the only white male on the tour I was expecting to feel out of place, but this didn't happen.  In Taipei, our group traveled by bus to the very scenic city of I-lan.  From the elevated road leading to I-lan, thousands of small ponds of water separated by only small strips of land can be viewed.  Here we stayed at the Chillin Center.  I-lan has many interesting museums of the Taiwan Democratic Movement, Taiwan Theatre, and other great sites.  One of the fun activities we did in I-lan was going to a ¡§wooden loafer exhibit.¡¨  At the exhibit we learned how Taiwanese wooden clogs are made.  We also got a chance to try to dance and have a race with three pairs of clogs tied together.

            Another interesting city to visit was Hualien.  Here we visited some Aboriginal Tribes.  We even sampled aboriginal foods.  At first, Taiwanese food seemed too foreign to eat every day, especially with chopsticks, but at the end of the tour it became a normal meal to me.  The aboriginal food just tasted like other Taiwanese food to me; however, I was informed by others on the tour that the Aboriginal food was much different from normal Taiwanese food.  The aborigines are much like the Native American Indians in the U.S.  They live off the land and dress accordingly.  We met an aboriginal author who has two books that are used in Chinese Study classes at Harvard.

            Taiwan also has several National Parks.  They are very beautiful and have many nature trails to hike.  On one of the hikes, we saw monkeys swinging from tree to tree.  These monkeys actually threw projectiles at our group.  Along with the monkeys, these hikes had beautiful rivers and waterfalls. 

There is also lot of geothermal activity in Taiwan.  I read of many places on the maps where hot springs could be found.  Our group visited one of these hot springs.  This was one of the most memorable moments.  Our group had a lot of fun, and only one person stepped into a pool too hot for humans (he's fine).

            The hotels that we stayed at were very nice.  Sometimes we got to stay at five star hotels that had everything from bowling alleys, to go-carts.  In Ken-ding I visited my first night market, which is very similar to an American carnival except that they have them every night.  People pitch a stand and sell to pedestrians on both sides of busy streets.  This was the only time I got ripped off; after that I always used an interpreter friend when buying items in Taiwan.

            I think that by the end of the tour everybody was pretty good friends, and we were comfortable with each other.  The last city we stayed at was Taipei.  We had a lot of free time to roam around the city in groups.  We even visited the Presidential Palace and saw the First Lady.  Taipei was much like how I imagine New York City is.  Everyone hurries around and no one takes time for anything but business.  It is easy to get lost, especially if you don't speak Taiwanese or Mandarin. 

            My whole conception of Taiwan and Asian countries changed after going on this tour.  I have made a lot of new friends and had a great vacation.  My life has really been put into perspective after this tour.  The Taiwan I knew before was drastically different from the Taiwan I now know.