First impressions of Taipei

By Courtney Hart | 2/6/12 12:03am

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Courtesy Photo/ Courtney Hart
A room that Courtney Hart visited in Taipei with multiple gods’ statues in it representing the different ranks of deities in Heaven.


We have been in Taipei, Taiwan for a little over two weeks now. Living here is completely different from my life back home with my husband. It is all very strange and exciting too. For instance, while our rooms have a mini-fridge so we can buy some food from the grocery stores to have on hand for late night snacks after curfew hours, we still go out and buy most of our daily food from street vendors with cash.

Most of Taiwan’s economy runs on cash, and very few places that I have seen so far accept debit cards. I am so thankful to be here thanks to the help I received from family members and The Gilman International Scholarship Program. I would not be able to afford to come were it not for their assistance.

For our first two weeks here we had a lot of free time and semi-unstructured activities. By semi-unstructured I mean that many of the “classes” I am taking are not in an actual classroom. For example we have had a few group trips already that count as part of our “curriculum” here.

For one, we went to the calligraphy studio of Huang Mingli, a respected calligrapher and former classmate of Professor Curtis Smith of GVSU’s Modern Languages and Literatures department, who is the faculty member leading our study abroad program. There we got the opportunity to learn about the art of Chinese calligraphy and then watch Huang Mingli and his older brother write spring couplet poems on red banners.

After each of us was given the chance to write some characters with a brush on the red banner paper we even got the chance to watch Huang Mingli’s dissertation advisor Gong Pengcheng write a few. He does not do public sessions like that very often and it was an incredible experience to be allowed to watch. It is a tradition in Chinese culture to hang two single line red banners that together form a two line couplet poem on either side of the entrance to one’s home during the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year for good luck and in celebration of the coming of spring. The Lunar New Year typically falls somewhere in the end of January, or the first week of February and spring arrives in late March and early April.

For another trip, we went via Gondola up into the mountain next to Taipei to go to the famous Zhi Nangong Taoist Temple and then we went to the Longshan Si Temple over in the Wanhua District of Taipei. Both temples are primarily Taoist, but they also house Buddhist and Confucian religious figures as well because the three primary religions of China are now so closely intertwined that worshipers of all three are welcome at almost every temple. The views and architecture of the Zhi Nangong Temple were simply amazing. Everywhere we go we are learning something and each of us is so excited to be here.

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