One year ago I had the trip of a lifetime to Taiwan and China. Now this trip was different in that I was not there for pleasure, per say, nor did I really have the option of planning my days. (Which was less stressful and more exciting I will admit.)
I was there with the University of Utah Chamber Choir and our days were full of rehearsals, concerts, buses, meals and excursions planned together. There were some frustrating moments as well as some pretty incredible ones. I fell in love with the people and cultures of Taiwan and China, I was able to sing some pretty incredible music in some incredible places, and of course become more of a family with my friends and fellow choir members. All of it made this adventure special and unique and I will never forget it.
Since there are so many details I want to share (and document) I have split it into to two posts! Here are my first Top 5 Memories of my week in Taiwan!
- The plane ride over
Now this wasn’t exactly in Asia but it was memorable. We left Salt Lake City quite early in the morning, but all (as far as I could tell) were very excited. We boarded our second plane in Seattle and in 9ish hours was supposed to be in South Korea then onto Taiwan.
The plane was old, leg room minimal and there was a lovely piece of paper scotch taped over our air and light switches. I felt happy being sandwiched between my two best friends, John and Kyra. The other passengers were nice. We were also throughly entertained by the older man sitting across the aisle who chose to lay the airline blanket over his head, fall asleep, then lean completely sideways into the aisle. Resulting in flight attendants and strangers having to gently push him upright to pass, after which he would quickly lean over again. Snoring away.
3 1/2 hours in, the already dimmed lights suddenly turned off. An announcement was being said over the speaker but it was quiet and so broken up that no one could understand what was happening. Another announcement came on, clearer this time, saying something about “broken piece,” “cold weather,” and “turning back.” We watched the map with the slowly moving aircraft change to show a u-turn in the middle of the ocean. 3 hours later we were back in Seattle, sitting in groups by the gate.
We spent the next couple of hours watching videos, swapping snacks provided by the airline, and wandering the nearby gates. We re-boarded onto the same plane and watched movies, talked, and played trivia games on the somewhat working screens. A total of 18 hours later from takeoff the first time in Seattle, we finally arrived in Seoul barely missing our next flight. We ended up spending the “night” there, and back on a plane within a few hours. Once in Taiwan we took a 4 hour bus ride to Kaohsiung. As our director (if I remember correctly) at one point said, “I feel that we’re just going and going and going and not getting anywhere.”
Not only did we travel on planes, but also on buses, subways, and speed trains. I have to give a shoutout to Korean Air for possibly the best air travel experience ever with a spacious plane, kind and thoughtful attendants, and interesting but delicious food.
Buses were our main form of transportation. Whether it be across the country, meals, rehearsals, concerts, or a museum. Every bus was unique with decor. One bus was a sea foam green with white tassels hanging from the windows. Another was dark blue with 90s patterned seats and strobing colored LEDs. All felt like they could be a room in my Grandmother’s house. Without fail on every bus ride I was sandwiched in the back between John and Kyra with Julia added. I loved it.
The Subways in Taiwan were unbelievably clean. Our first experience on the subway was in Kaohsiung at a station near our hotel. It was massive with a center that had shops and a gorgeous, colored glass roof. On one of the sides was a white, baby grand, piano which our pianist took the initiative to cross the rope barriers and start playing. Since the room was very live, choir members where able to hear from all ends of the center and slowly gathered back as they heard one of our songs and we sang “Oh Danny Boy” for anyone who walked by
We took the Speed Train, that travels at approximately 180 mph, across the country from Kaohsiung to Taipei. It involved a chaotic, but somehow still organized trek from subway to subway trailing our bags with us. Yu-Feung (one of the choral conductor TAs, a Taiwan native, and wonderful human being) led the large 40 person group of Americans, like little ducks through crowds and checkpoints to the train in a record amount of time. The train itself was spacious and very quiet. Multiple times we were reminded of the quiet culture that the Taiwanese have, and frankly I quite liked it. We ate little bento boxes with a delicious flan like dessert. All provided for by Yu-Feung. We were able to see the green countryside, and cities here and there in record time. All while being sandwiched between John and Kyra, reading my book.
The hotels in themselves were an experience. I had no idea what to expect including what level of comfort, safety, and just general expectations. Each one was unique and overall memorable.
Our first hotel was a Grand Hyatt actually in Korea, during our short overnight “layover.” We probably all slept a total of 2-3 hours after spending a good couple of hours in the vast, marble covered lobby. The rooms were very nice, clean, and American. But the BEST part was the breakfast. In their sleek restaurant building, across a bridge, with beautiful and kind Korean waiters and waitresses wandering around. I’ll describe the food more later…
The hotel in Kaohsiung was an adventure. There was a small lobby, completely open to the air and sounds outside with a wall made of looney tunes cardboard boxes (??). There was a karaoke bar next door, and men always hanging around. There was a row of elevators outside, but it seemed only one worked at a time. The elevator was small and each wall had large “advertisements” of women. It sometimes opened randomly to the “5th Floor,” that was dark and completely gutted out. Very spooky, and as the door buttons didn’t work you would be stuck staring into the great abyss. The doors would close with force at any point, no matter if there was a human or suitcase in the way. We quickly learned why there were advertisements, as the “7th and 8th Floor” was a “business” in which we were not allowed to enter. It had a club like feel, with beautiful attendants who would look at us apologetically as a large group of drunk men would squeeze inside the small elevator, already filled with American choir singers.
The room was spacious, clean by my expectations, the beds were firm and the bathroom had a “fancy” toilet with additional buttons. The walls were brown with grey floral accent walls. It was also very hot and humid, even in the rooms, which made putting on makeup difficult but our room had a spectacular view.
Our Taipei Hotel was in the army district of the city, near the President’s palace, called the Taipei Hero House. There was a spacious lobby with a 7/11 and massage chairs. The breakfast room was large and everything was in Chinese and every guest and employee only spoke Chinese. The rooms were standard with firm beds and green walls. There were plastic sandals outside of the shower. Outside the window was a small alley and we could see right into the windows of the next door apartments, giving a glimpse into city life in Taipei.
4. Night Markets!
NIGHT MARKETS! One of the best things about Taiwan was exploring the night markets. They are like American Farmers Markets but better. Full of sounds, people, wonderful and questioning smells. We went to two markets, one in Kaohsiung our first night there (hello jet lag…) and one in Taipei.
In Kaohsiung we were separated into small groups and led by local students around the market. Ours was shyer, but was more than willing to answer questions as we walked through the city. As well as eat any foods we didn’t like and recommend typical snacks and foods. The market was smaller, one long street, but there was so much to see. We tried a fruity milk tea and “stinky tofu” (it lives up to its name), delicious pieces of meat and fresh fruit. Despite being hot and extremely tired it was probably the best way to spend our first night there.
The market in Taipei was incredible. It was this large and vast market that covered blocks of city and many little alley ways. Again, we were led by a local student and friend of Yu-Feung’s. Super kind, smart, and funny. He also ate any foods we didn’t like, made sure we saw what we wanted to see and try, recommended local favorites, and explained college life within the city. There was a temple in the middle of the market with neon lights around it, which we went inside to explore. This market had not just food, but clothe shops, toys, electronics, raw foods as well as cooked foods, desserts…anything you could think of. We went through the fish market, ate delicious candies, desserts, meat, fruits, etc. I hadn’t felt the extreme jet lag until this night. I felt that I couldn’t stand upright or focus, but it was memorable all the same.
One of my favorite parts of traveling is food. It is worth the money, and pounds, to try anything and everything (to a certain extent.) I was excited to try food in Asia as it can be so different from the US and Europe.
The breakfast in Korea was phenomenal. With chefs preparing omelets, colorful dim sum, noodles, meat, there was fruit everywhere and a whole station of beautiful bakery bread.
For meals we had anything from pasta and rose tea to fast food dim sum and steamed buns (which was incredibly delicious.) We had bento boxes full of noodles, vegetables, and a choice of meat. KFC is a gourmet unique experience in Asia, with their different breading and spices. We had many different types of barbecued meats. Some fish. We went to a Japanese Hot Pot restaurant, which quickly became everybody’s favorite. An experience that included individual hot pots which you fill with broth then cook your own choice of meats, vegetables, noodles, and sauces.
The mango. How much could I talk about Mangoes in Taipei. I dream about a mango shaved ice with fresh fruit on top that I shared with Kyra. We even bought a second one we loved it so much. We tried a variety of fruits like dragon fruit, pineapple, and an unique type of apple. There was candied strawberries on a skewer. Warm, fresh, strawberries covered in a sugar coating that crunched and stuck to your lips when you took a bite off it.
Boba tea and milk teas are delicious! Sweet, yet still bitter, and creamy from the milk. There were fruit milk teas, aloe milk teas, etc. Snack wise we tried lots of different types of crackers, cookies with sweet bean fillings, chocolates, candies, and sodas.
Desserts are my favorite no matter what country I am in. Our friend in Taipei took us to a shaved ice parlor where he ordered ice topped with passion fruit and one with beans and sweet and condensed milk. We all tried the beans once, but he finished it thankfully. The passion fruit was incredible and refreshing.
Beans were everywhere. On our flight to Taiwan we were served this jello/greek yogurt type substance that had a packet of soy sauce alongside. Bean curd. Very salty and slimy.
I loved (although most did not like) a popular dessert at the night market: which was sherbet ice-cream with fresh basil and peanut brittle all wrapped in something I would relate to a French crepe.
I wish I remembered more about the food, but it was a ride to simply eat what was given to the entire choir. Don’t worry Taiwan, I’ll come back for your food and overall hospitality.
Like I said this trip was unbelievable and I am determined to go back at some point in my life. The culture, the food, the history, and the people were unimaginably wonderful. These memories were unforgettable, hence the being able to write about them a year later, and I hope to never forget them.
I want to thank the donors who support the University of Utah’s College of Music and the Choral Department. As well as Chamber Choir. Every person and singer in that choir made it possible, especially our director Dr. Bradford. And shoutout to Yu-Feung! The NTU chorus as well as other university choruses who fundraised and welcomed us deserve all the love and gratitude.
Thanks for the Adventure Taiwan!!
Part 2 coming SOOOOON!!