It started raining last night. Lately, every time when I sit down to look and listen to the rain it reminds me of a Hong Kongese movie director Wong Kar-wai. Maybe it is the melancholia that has finally taken over me. Or maybe it is the unholy alliance of the rain, the heat and the sweat, which renders the sunshine completely unnecessary in the process of bodily perspiration. Out of the twenty eight decembery degrees of warmth, none have Christmas spirit whatsoever.
Alternatively, could the reason for the “Wong Kar-wai rain feeling” be, that the traditional balcony, accessible through the East Asian style sliding doors – of course – where I observe the rain from, happens to be in a building ordered to be demolished, yet which has been taken over by the mafia and renovated, and, for some reason, all this makes perfect sense for me to call home now? What am I doing here anyway?
Every morning in Dongmen metro station the doors to the carriages know how to slide open and close in four different languages. As I step in I am relieved to discover that there is no game of thrones going on with the seats this time. I would have not fared well, I am afraid, as I am on my way to the northern part of Taipei, Tamsui, where I am supposed to meet the professor of linguistics, and really, it must be the end of the line for me, no doubt.
I expect the journey to last for an hour or so, as I forget to look worried in likes of the stressed business people around me seem to do. I guess this is it then, finally, the feeling of being old in spirit.
It is somewhere along the way, where the train enters from an underground tunnel to above the ground, where the hills and the mountains ripe with all sorts of vegetation set the scene for those thousands of indigenous species of animals to eat – or get eaten by – other animals.
Hence, it is no wonder, life itself existing in a circular fashion as it can be observed here, that the various religions from Buddhists to Catholics have found a save haven from this island and are visually present even in the most commercial parts of the city. Regardless, the common spiritual atmosphere has maintained its delightfully atheistic fragrance.
A family of five enters the carriage. They speak Japanese to each other, as it is a common sight in Taipei. No doubt that their polite and modest conversation concern the most passionate and religious topic imaginable: dinner plans.
If food would be a religion, I would be hell-bent for martyrdom by now, as I have come to realize that in order to navigate through the versatile fabric of Taiwan and its culture, the most important skill necessary is the unsatisfied hunger. Those who lack the hunger, better not set their foot on this soil that is jam-packed with Taiwanese, Japanese and other Asian restaurants, not forgetting the western trends. Even the locals´ take on – what is called – Chinese cuisine deserves a silent smirk and a modest nod of approval, that is, if I am lucky enough not to receive my favorite continental noodle dish covered with a sauce that has the color and the consistency of a diarrhea, and of which name I do not even dare to mention aloud, just in case.
The scene changes into something completely different and unknown to me as the carriage doors slide open once again. Change makes evolution possible, I remember some world renown biologist to argue. Feeling emerges as a breeze of fresh tropic-like air kicks in. I exit. There is still time. And it is exactly that immediate flash of a moment, that makes me wonder: would I change anything.
No, nothing.. In this case I would not even change the change itself.
The sun set down faster than usual in that day, but not because of the thieves, the swindlers and the other lurkers of the dark were chasing it, but rather because of the ever-present, relaxed and tranquil state of existence that got me carried away as I entered into a philosophical dialogue with a newly met acquaintance who was soon – no doubt – to evolve into a dear friend, as it so often happens in Ilha Formosa.
Truly, Taiwan is best described as an island of infinitely repetitive bye-byes, yet which were evolved from, and hence signify, the existence of infinite greetings, thank-yous and rendezvous; basic human kindness in interactions, with the persistence of the rainy season.
Text and photos: Markku Väisänen
Read more interesting blog posts written by Markku, Study Advisory’s team member, staying in Taipei:
“I am ashamed of it”, she describes, retrospectively, about a scene in Oulu, Finland, where a grinning, hairy, face of a man approaches the face of a girl, her, not long pass her prime. For a flash of a second, it can be imagined that she will get spit on her face from him, such is the proximity of the two, and such is the brutality of the act. Yet, her eyes show only ecstatic acceptance, which is highlighted by the untamed make-up she wears. Her head twitches wildly, and her hair splits the air. He is sure to see right through her tantalized gaze and knows what it means: unapologetic synchronization – wild and primitive.
Really, Yu-hsuan, are you ashamed of it?
“Not really a fan of metal, before I went to Finland”, Taiwanese Lee Yu-hsuan, a former university student and a performer in the city of Oulu´s official, heavy metal themed commercial, starts her story. “I applied for four different programs in four different countries”. The year was 2010, and obviously there was an important and long-lasting choice to be made. “At that time, I really wanted to get out from the comfort zone, so of course Oulu was the top choice. None of my friends had a clue about there”.
How much of a danger zone did Oulu – known for its black winter days – turn out to be?
Luckily, a complete castaway she was not. “When I was in Finland, I got a lot of help from the local people”, she remembers those times, adding that the living costs were affordable as well. And how about the studies then?
“The program was well designed, and it was also really international”, Yu-hsuan characterizes the University of Oulu´s Education and Globalization program. “I hope I didn’t give you the wrong impression: that I am pessimistic about Taiwan’s international status”, she is quick to realize, and continues: “the common experience is that the universities [in Taiwan] are not providing enough courses in English for international students”. “I just wanted to choose a different way”.
And, indeed, a different way she chose; in Oulu “I got time to really think about me – what I want – without any social pressure”. Could it be at that point, when the metal music stepped into the otherwise more ordinary story?
“It was actually from a cocktail show in a local bar”, she starts to unravel the metallic mystery, and is sure to continue: “we wanted to celebrate this special moment, so my friends ordered some special cocktails for me, and the bartender accompanied the drinks with this type of music and fire”. It had caught her soon-to-become metal heart, though with peculiar modesty she points out that she is not a big fan of heavy metal, but finds it, nevertheless, interesting. However, there is a dash of typical Finnish downplaying to be sensed in her storytelling, which raises the question: what other habits did Yu-hsuan – from the land of the mid-day sun – pick up in the land of the midnight sun.
“Frankly, seeing all the LGBT -rights debate lately in Taiwan makes me recall the demonstration in Helsinki in October this year”, she changes the topic, referring to the equal marriage act that is called to be enacted in the Taiwanese legislative bodies, and of which the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are head over heels in favour of, and who have taken it to the streets of Taipei. “I just don’t get it – I thought it would be easy to pass the law in Taiwan”, Yu-hsuan explains.
Apart from pressing political matters, surely, Taiwan is nothing like Finland, at least when it comes to metal music, and the tropical island nation must be a flat out Copacabana compared to kalevalaesque Oulu, right? Not quite. “Surprisingly, there is an up-coming metal music event happening in Hsinchu”, where a non-surprising selection of songs from Finnish household names – such as Nightwish, Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica – is played. “What makes Finnish people so into it”, she wonders aloud.
“Do you keep up with the Finnish tradition as a heavy drinker?”, she then asks out of the blue.
Hopefully, the answer is no, but I must admit that all this talk about drinks and LGBT -rights made me wonder about one of my favorite clubs in Taipei. It is a place well known for its LGBT crowds during the occasional, “rainbowishly” themed nights – a rainbow in the dark, dare I say. And, frankly, you can’t go wrong with a club where one receives a free shot of whiskey for being a Finn, and another one for being a fan, a fan of of metal music that is, and where the bartender remembers to mention his favourite band being Stratovarius.
It seems to forever amaze me, what makes specifically the metal crowd so uniquely accepting and peace-loving. At least, for some reason, those who have spent a winter beyond the 60th parallel seem to not lack the courage.
And then, between us, there was a silence that was not awkward at all. It was rather synchronous, anticipating a faster pace to come, and, sure enough:
“Busy, busy!”, she commented her current life as a project manager for an art investment company Arttime, and then added: “looking forward to my dinner in Taipei tonight – we are doing coffee tasting”.
Metal music, human rights, craft beer, coffee tasting and silence. How awfully Finnish can life sometimes be..
PS. There are (at least) 9 more or less famous metal song names embedded in the article. Those who wish to prove themselves worthy, may have a go at finding and recognizing all of the names.
One of our staff members, Markku, has spent the autumn in Taiwan, getting familiar with Taiwanese universities. A while ago he visited a local arts festival and got the chance to interview a Finnish music artist and former music student, Antti Myllyoja, about his experiences as an exchange student, and where his exchange has brought him eventually.
No words are spoken as a pale figure with a grotesque aura, that could well predate literature, stumbles forwards its linear path, in a zombie-like state, toward a disruptive symbolic structure, a chaotically vandalized black and white piano in this case, which it then studies, expressing nearly an animal like behavior all the way to the highest of excitements, only to plummet back in to the depths of despair again. Then, gradually, it starts to make its way towards its complete opposite, a well composed and lively pianist who excels in an aesthetically pleasing state of signified existence. Two of them become one as the climactic dissonant chords are played like vulgar echoes from the left-behind chaos and disruption.
Although the main interest of the third Love for Freedom Calligraphy Art festival (愛自由當代書藝) is a Taiwanese dancer, and somewhat a local celebrity in the contemporary art scene, Hu Chia (胡嘉), the object of his performance, Black Meal (黑食), however, is a Finnish composer Antti Myllyoja in piano. Performance that ends in a synthesis of these two artists for the first time now – though who have been friends for a good couple of years – makes intriguing sense in the audience´s perspective since Antti is the only foreign artist who performs in the festival and, as such, is bound to catch the eyes of those who have wondered into an old warehouse building turned gallery within the city of Hsinchu´s railway station complex. But how has Antti himself found his way to Hsinchu and become part of the Taiwanese contemporary art scene?
It was back in 2010, the exchange, Antti starts his story. That was also the year he graduated from Sibelius Academy (nowadays part of the University of the Arts Helsinki) in Finland. At that time, the soon-to-become master of music had a touch of previous experience in Asia, having spent an exceptional summer in China couple of years earlier, and who thus was keen to browse through the available exchange options with the recently seen movies from an award winning Malaysian-born director – though who has made his career in Taiwan – Tsai Ming-liang in mind. Was it Tsai´s Taiwan inspired movies that had influenced Antti to choose Taiwan over the many other locations which offer interesting scenes for an artist and exchange student? “Tsai´s movies gave me a very creative and experimental picture of Taiwan which was later proven to be correct”, Antti explains. There is no heavy burden of tradition, he then adds. “Tradition can be good, but not the burden”. What kind of burden does he mean?
“It rained heavily that day, and I went to a hostel for the night”, Antti reminiscences his first day in Taipei. And within a week he was already in the studio of Golden Bough Theatre, a peculiar fusion of western theater and Taiwanese folk tradition, or post-modern, as it would be called in the world of arts, through which he became accustomed to the world of Taiwanese theater – “it is in the core of the story”, he reminds. Internship in Golden Bough lasted for three months, after which he started another three-month internship with the contemporary percussionists of Ju Percussion Group. Then it was time for the master´s thesis. “It was a free field of arts, without puritanism”, he sums up the exchange period; “even the studies were free of structure”. Then he starts to talk about a course that consisted of visits to culturally significant buildings. Nonchalance is easily mistaken as discontinuance in Antti´s story.
“One reason, of course, was a Taiwanese actress Liu Yutsen, and another was a place in the Taiwanese art scene”, why Antti returned to Taiwan after his studies were completed. At the time, in 2012, the two of them established a theater together and Radical Snail Office was born. “The idea was to combine contemporary music with experimental theater”. “Surely, it has worked out well”. When asked about Antti´s future plans, the man replies: “as if I have any – we live in a space between…”. Silence ensues after which a burst of sarcastic laughter soon follows. It was the same laughter that spiced up the story of him seeing the distorted and diabolical face, probably from the performance the night before, in the heat and humidity of Taipei, in which the lizards are free to roam about.
Did you understand what was it about, asked a fair Taipei lady of a high academic standing, referring to the Black Meal performance, not being used to the contemporary arts. Perhaps it was about the thorough disruption in an otherwise so linear evolutionary path that needed to take place in order for the new literate culture to be born. Be as it may, in any case, Antti Myllyoja would not change a thing about his experience in Taiwan.
Disruption echoes in the dissonance, as Antti, Hu Chia and many others continue catering the contemporary art addicts those ink-black meals of enlightened culture near the rigid shores of the Pacific Ocean that make up the island of Taiwan.
Find more information about Taiwanese universities!
Soochow University and Taipei University of the Arts have received very favourable reviews on Study Advisory, where they were rated both by Taiwanese and international students. The security level and student services are particularly appreciated at Soochow while good value for money stands out from reviews of Taipei University of the Arts.
Introducing the highlight of summer 2016: The DISCOVER CHINA program!
Discover China is new and unique travel education program which allows its’ participants to experience the local traditional life of Hong Kong and China. It’s organised in collaboration of Interface Education and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).
Discover China gives its’ participants great insight into the Chinese culture, economy, and heritage, while allowing them to admire the stunning landscapes, and while activating their taste buds with a wide variety of authentic Chinese cuisine. Discover China will take its’ participants far beyond the tourist-trodden paths and will enable them to experience a wide variety of activities, as well as face-to-face interactions with the friendly locals.
An adventure of lifetime
Discover China is a unique adventure, and its’ primary goal is to introduce its’ participants to the rich natural, cultural, and historical aspects of the destinations in which they will visit. Discover China is ideal for those who wish to better understand Chinese culture within a short period of time, admire wonderful places and meet new people. What better place to start exploring the Guangdong Province in exotic Southern China than Hong Kong?
A new way of seeing things
New destinations often include an unknown culture and a new way of looking at the world and life. A chance to visit new destinations also means new life experiences! During the Discover China journey, you won’t think of these destinations as locations anymore, but rather, you will think more about how they have given you a new way of seeing the world. Participants will build lasting memories and wonderful friendships as they expand their views of the world!
Get in touch with the locals
During this journey, participants will meet and interact with many kinds of locals; including students, hard working factory laborers, farmers and wise village elders. Discover China provides its’ participants with travel companions who are local English-speaking university students. They will give all Discover China participants great insight into local student life and student culture. Participants can practice their Mandarin Chinese with these local students, while building long lasting friendships along the way!
Have you ever wanted to experience new things, yet never could quite put your finger on exactly what? You now have a one-of-a-kind chance to dive right in to a culture as rich as the lands it originated from!
During this unique journey, you as a student will experience the following activities which will make your journey truly unforgettable:
Learn Mandarin Chinese at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)
Admire Hong Kong’s iconic skyline at the top of Victoria Peak
Enjoy an authentic Hong Kong street market experience in Sham Shui Po
Experience the manufacturing plants and meet the hard working laborers
Embrace Southern Chinese Culture in the Lingnan Impression Park
Visit a 400 year old Ancient Village, and get to know the Hakka people
Be amazed at a Silkworm Farm, and learn about silk production
Try communal farming and get your hands dirty while having some fun!
Learn traditional Chinese arts: calligraphy, painting, and paper cutting
Try out the most famous Chinese Martial Art: Kung Fu
As you can see, this isn’t your typical sightseeing tour. This is an educational adventure filled with numerous activities and experiences. It takes you away from the beaten path to help you discover the natural beauty, culture and life of China, which is often overlooked by the average tourist.
Ready to go?
For whom: Students and parents
When: The 7th – 17th of August 2016 and the 21st- 31st of August 2016
Application Deadline: The7th of July 2016 and the 21st of July 2016
Price: 1,880 USD / 1,760 Euro per person
***(Early bird price: 1,680 USD / 1,560 Euro per person)***
Discover China is Organised in cooperation between Interface Education and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).
It’s that time of year again! A much needed spring break to leave the books at home, let loose and have some fun! I know you can already feel the sun on your face just thinking about it, but before you grab your swimsuits and head south towards the usual destination, consider some of our favourite Spring break destinations too!
Paris – For all the art Louvre’s!
Pun intended! Haha! But seriously, pun’s aside, Paris has a lot to offer those who are looking for an alternative to the traditional sun soaked spring break festivities! Especially for those who have a passion for the finer things in life, such as arts and architecture! The spring season in France can be a mixture of beautiful days and chilly romantic nights, and the city comes to life with early blooms and dazzling lights! This is a great chance to see the city in many shades. Photographers and Instagramers rejoice: No filter necessary!
Due to the fact that Paris is not in the midst of its’ peak season at this time of year, you can be sure to get more bang for your buck and you will face fewer crowds, making this a great opportunity to invest in visiting this European destination of your dreams!
Got your passport out and ready to go? You simply MUST see the Eiffel Tower: worth every penny! On a sunny day with clear visibility the beautiful structure and consistency of the city of Paris is jaw dropping from every corner! The first floor has a transparent floor where you can wonder out onto the glass and take in the view from 57 meters below! At 115 meters, you can take in the views of Paris from the second floor, or if you are feeling adventurous, you can take the lift all the way up to the third floor 276 meters high! Be prepared to experience a serious case of the “Jell-O legs” as you exit onto the viewing platform if you are not a natural lover of heights!
The Musee du Louvre is also so much more than the Mona Lisa and a chance to take a selfie with the glass pyramids outside (though we highly suggest you do this too while you are there)! The Notre Dame Cathedral is another Parisian icon, and taking it in both from the outside and the inside is a must, especially during a mass! Latin songs echo off the steep walls and delicate painted windows. The smell of incense and the soft candlelight is dizzying. Somehow within all the awe, one can find a certain relaxation with the rhythm of the comings and goings inside. It is an experience you have to feel to believe!
Foodie? Paris by Mouth Food Tours is a great way to get the inside scoop on some of the best eateries around town! Travelers are simply raving about Paris by Mouth Food Tours, and there is no question in our mind that you should be too! In 3 hours time expect to taste the best food and beverages that Paris has to offer with special attention paid to the seasonality of the food culture! Prepared to be stuffed, and very happy!
London – Harry Potter and History!
Admit it: You are all about London because of Harry Potter! No? Well then you are certainly going for the history! These are two of the hottest attractive features of this grand city! None the less, in London there is always something for everyone! Grab your umbrella, because there may be a little rain, but don’t let that dampen your spirits!
Spend a half-day at the Tower of London. Wow, all that history! Can you hear the calls of the murder of crows that call the tower home? Can you almost feel the powerful emotions of those who were held captive and met their untimely end here? How about the pull of the crown jewels, or the undeniable presence of a long timeline of valuable historic movements? Do take advantage of the audio guide! There is a LOT to take in here!
Want the best view in London? The View from the Shard is an exhilarating experience beginning with two quick 30 second leaps to the observation deck spanning the 68th, 69th, and 72nd floors. At the top, take in the one of a kind experience to see 360-degree views of London from 244 meters high!
Big Ben and the London Eye are two of the most iconic and photographed sights in London, hands down! They are also in close proximity for a good stroll! Any trip to London would not be complete without exploring the area around these giants! Take in the might of the River Thames, which separates these two beauties by way of the Westminster Bridge. This is a perfect place for a sunset stroll to take in this legendary neighbourhood in various light settings, making it a fun place for photo-ops! Stroll a bit away from the river and explore the Westminster Abbey where a multitude of famous unions and burials have taken place by royals!
Let’s face it, we are all still recovering a bit from the fact that our owl got lost while trying to deliver our letter to Hogwarts! Luckily for us, there is a place full of the magic that has roots deep within our childhood, and that is the site of the Warner Brothers Studios where almost all of the 8 Harry potter films were shot!
Pass the cramped cupboard under the stairs where it all began and walk right threw the doors into the great hall, and zig zag your way threw the wide variety of props and sets taken strait from the films, as well as the technical rooms which unveil the secrets and tidbits that made all the magic come to life! Sip on an ice cold butter beer midway and don’t forget to snap a picture of your butter beer moustache! Towards the end of the self-guided tour, pause to admire the original artwork created for the movie storyboards, as well as the model of Hogwarts castle from which all of the outside castle scenes were shot!
Last but not least, enjoy the ends of your evenings in London over a hearty meal and an ice cold drink. You will not be lonely long! The people of London can be very warm and inviting, so be prepared to extend your night in the city with the buddy you bumped elbows with at the nearby pub! Cheers!
First and foremost, if you want to be in the centre of all the action, Dublin is where it’s at! Whether you are visiting because of roots or because of curiosity, everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! For the full experience, squeeze yourself into a local hostel to meet up with several other spring breakers who crossed the puddle to have a good time!
Put on your greenest frocks and make your way down to the festival area. The parade is something that is certainly NOT TO BE MISSED! This colourful and engaging experience full of live music and performances is certainly one of kind in its’ own right! Follow the crowds afterwards to find wonderful food, drink and company to fill your evening with!
Taking part in this all is also a great way to take an informal walking tour of all of the sights of downtown Dublin, as the festival area and parade are located in such a close proximity that they would be hard to miss! There are also parties on-going and on-going, so you can be sure to never be bored! In your free time between celebrations, don’t miss the Guinness Storehouse and the Irish Whiskey Museum, because: reasons!
So Europe just can’t kick the call of the sea? We understand, with summer just around the corner, why not get yours in a little early?
Bahamas – The new Cancun!
Yep, you heard right! Cancun is a classic, yes, but why not explore another island paradise instead this year? In Nassau, the capital and largest city of the Bahamas, you get the full spring break party experience as well as a chance to relax in paradise!
Go with the flow, and do what you want! A wide variety of parties can be found all over the island day and night, so you will never run low on options to mix, mingle, and get down! From hopping bars, to wave beaten turquoise beachfronts and every little detail in between, this could be the best spring break of your entire life!! Why not try a party boat? Or why not take part in few wild water sports? You know you always wondered what its like to go parasailing! Grab your swim gear and get ready to soak up the sun with thousands of other students from all around!
Want to live the life of luxury? Splurge to stay at Atlantis, or at one of the notorious all-inclusive resorts around the island. Nothing more to worry about than having the time of your life! On a Shoestring? There are loads of amazing places to stay on the island, and food is quite affordable in the Bahamas!
Puerto Rico – Unexpected Adventure of a Lifetime!
Even though Puerto Rico is not as virally advertised as a spring break destination, for a very affordable price and without the need for a passport for American travellers, Puerto Rico has the potential to become one of the hottest spring break destinations in years to come!
From its’ stretch of beautiful beaches, to the call of the wild in the rainforest, the landscape itself is breath-taking and an excellent host for various outdoor activities to explore in the daytime! The nights are also full of life, and parties are not in low supply either!
You can find all the basics for an excellent spring break in Pureto Rico, so grab your ticket and just remember to not forget your sunscreen! Have a blast, stay safe and best of luck to you for the rest of your semester!