Taiwan Part One: A Urinal Aesthetic (but everyone is nice so it’s okay)

My name is Hannah and I am a sophomore at Davidson College. As of yesterday, I have been in Taiwan for one week. I am interning at Tunghai University, located outside of Taichung, Taiwan. Every day I go into the International College office and do various tasks: I staple tests, grade papers, write quizzes, take attendance in classes, write summaries of lectures, write articles, write grant proposals. All of this is allowing me to become more familiar with the Taiwanese educational system.

Little things are different in Taiwan. You have to insert what looks like a credit card into an air conditioning unit to have the AC turn on. You cannot drink water out of the tap. Soy milk tastes sweeter. Some things are the same. The apples are from California. All the desks in the office are from Ikea. The printer constantly jams.

I spent my first weekend exploring the Tunghai campus. It rests above the city. If you stand on the roof of a campus building and the day doesn’t happen to be hazy (aka smoggy), you can look onto an urban mass of grey. Taichung isn’t all that pretty. There’s a lot of grey concrete juxtaposed against bright green plants. A friend told me that if she had to describe the urban buildings in one word, the word would be urinal. It sounds harsh. But all the buildings are dripping; they weren’t built to withstand the acid rain, so tears of color streak down their facades. And in the middle of July there is A LOT of rain. It’s all rather urinal. 

One thing I am learning to appreciate, and was certainly not expecting is the kindness of the people I have met and talked to. I had a taxi cab driver two days ago who spoke to me in English as I spoke to him in Chinese. He was born in Hong Kong and worked in agriculture in Taiwan until he retired two years ago. He showed me pictures of his sons and then gave me his card if I ever had any questions about Taiwan. A different day I was juggling a soccer ball on a tennis court when a professor stopped and talked to me. He said that most of the girls in Taiwan walk around with umbrellas, hiding from the sun. I looked at him with my red face, body dripping with sweat and grinned. He gave me his email and offered a tour of the city with his family. I am told this type of generosity is very typical Taiwanese. These small human interactions are grounding me, shaping Taichung into a place of smiles and kindness. 

Taiwan is an island, and it has an island culture. While the university is a place of study and work, it is also a place of relaxed smiles. It is a place of good, cheap food, red flowers, and white houses. I am excited to spend more time here, being simultaneously a part and apart of the culture and language that goes on around me.