Taiwan Day 100: "Happy 100 Days !!!" - Dec. 9, 2013 | Travel in Asia

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Taiwan Day 100: "Happy 100 Days !!!" - Dec. 9, 2013

#5yearsinTaiwan

It was a hot Sunday of September 1, 2013. My family was busy packing our things in the house that we are renting in Quezon City. My family was moving to another place. The plan was simple. Transport all our belongings to our home in Montalban, Rizal and my mother and father would come back to escort me to Clark Airport Lounge. My father would just used his to taxi to accomplish this plan. I was the one paying the rent and since I will be going abroad and nobody could not pay the rent my parents just decided to live in Montalban, Rizal. My luggage was around 31 kilos and my father help me carry my luggage and put it at the back of the taxi. One of our neighbors even said “Uy! Pupuntang Dubai!”. They taught I was going to work abroad. hehe! In a matter of hours my life would change forever. My parents were just cool when they left me in Trinoma Mall but I know deep inside their hearts they are sad because they won't see their eldest son for five years. It was mixed emotions. At 3:00pm the bus going to Clark International Airport left Trinoma. I have enjoyed the view of Mt. Arayat as the bus passed through the Pampanga province. At 5:00pm I have reached the airport. It was not my first time in this airport and I even enjoyed watching the television in the departure hall. The female immigration officer asked me “Ano pong gagawin nyo sa Hong Kong?”. I replied that I will not be going to Hong Kong rather I am going to Taiwan. A little interview with the immigration officer and I'm OK. Air Asia Philippines flight PQ 7357 lifted off at 8:35pm and passed through Luzon island and Bashi Channel. At around 10:00pm I saw the yellow glistening lights from my window. It was like I was looking at a sea of stars. It was one of the best moments of my life. I know I am in Taiwan now high above in the air and thinking of what will happen to me in the future. After a while I heard a Chinese message. I don't know what it was saying. I just interpreted it that it was telling all the passengers that we are in Taiwan. The captain spoke to us and we are told about how many minutes till we reached Taoyuan. It was my first time in Terminal 2 of Taoyuan International Airport. Just like what I did in Hong Kong International Airport I just followed the signs to reach the Immigration. The immigration officer asked me “How long are you going to study here?”. I replied “3 to 5 years”. Then I heard the sound of the stamp marking my single resident visa as “Used”. It was a funny experience when I reached the Arrival Hall. There were a lot of Taiwanese people. It was a very large crowd! Some have placards with Chinese characters written on it. Some are even carrying flags. Oh! They are looking me! haha! It was an awkward moment that I need to pretend that I didn't saw them and that I have to refrain myself from laughing. This was the story of Taiwan Day 1: The Pilot Episode.

December 9, 2013. I woke up at 7:30 am. It was a cold and cloudy day and I thought I need to change my plans for this Taiwan Day 100. I started my day by buying my two sandwiches for NTD 35. I took a bath and then went directly for my Chinese class. While in the Chinese class I was thinking what would be my alternative plans in celebrating this day. Will I go to see the Miramar Ferris Wheel? Am I going to Taipei Arena with my friends to have ice skating or just still pursue hiking the Elephant Mountain at night? I promised my PhD classmates that I will treat them for lunch but I was not able to do so. My classmates were also having a hard time finishing our machine problem in Python. The lectures were not clear and I was just lucky that I was able to debugged my code and was successful in getting an output. They might not join me in my celebration. I planned to buy a cake and put number shaped candles on it but I couldn't find even an ordinary candle in Carrefour. I asked the help of my Taiwanese friends and one of them bought the '100' candles for me. I received the candles after my Chinese class and I was so happy. I knew this will be the start of a great celebration.

In the afternoon I went to Dan Mi Erl cake shop to buy my cake. As expected the people managing the cake shop could not understand English so I researched first what is the 'cake' in Chinese. I googled it and it was 'dangao'. When I was in the cake shop I said 'I want to buy a cake'. The ladies didn't undertand what I was saying but when I said 'dangao' they immediately got what I said and a lady hurried went to the cakes displayed in the glass cabinet and asked me what cake do I want. I choose the chocolate cake as it was the only cake that I can put my number shaped candles. The other cakes have small bits of sliced fruits spread on top of it and it will be impossible to put candles above those kinds of cake. I went back to TIGP dorm carrying a cake which was packed inside a styrofoam. I called my PhD classmates to start the cake party. Nikhil (India), Divya (India) and Alcides (Peru) joined me in the dining table in the kitchen of TIGP Dorm. Kidane (Ethiopia) was in the lab so he was not able to witness the slicing of the cake but he promised to later join us in the evening. As usual everything was documented using my camera phone from lighting the candles to the blowing of the cake. The cake was was so delicious. The cake cost NTD 650 and it was worth my money. There were other TIGP students inside the kitchen and they thought it was my 100th birthday. hehe! One of my friends asked me “Why do you have to celebrate your 100 days? Why not your birthday?”. “My 100th day in Taiwan will only happen once in a lifetime and will not be repeated again” I replied.

There were a lot of reasons why I am celebrating this day and there were also a lot struggles before reaching this day. I landed in Taoyuan International Airport with only NTD 600. I even don't have the money to pay my tuition fee in National Tsing Hua University (NTHU). The TIGP scholarship program is just so weird that students have to bring money to pay their first tuition fee. I thought that I can borrow money from a Filipino friend but he was also having financial problems. It was not very easy. The first days were tough but I have to fight! I posted a message in the Facebook group of Filipino Scholars in Taiwan (FsiT). It don't have any choice but to begged for help. Three people lend me money. You know who you are and I am very thankful for your help. You three will always have my loyalty and respect. Someday I will also have the chance to help a fellow Filipino who also don't have money after arriving in Taiwan. The first money that I received was NTD 2,000 and I used the NTD 1,000 for my ARC application. The three year ARC was NTD 3,000 and since I don't have much money I just resort myself to a one year ARC. The next batch of money that I received was NTD 10,000 and the last batch was NTD 1,000. I received a total amount of NTD 13,000 from these three people and I used that money to settle and to survive for my first month in Taiwan. But it was not yet over, I still don't have money to pay my tuition fee in NTHU. The TIGP Bioinformatics lend me money to pay my tuition fee. They will deduct NTD 5,000 for three months and NTD 1098 for the fourth month from my stipend.

The big twist happened in Taiwan Day 12 which was my enrollment in NTHU. The unexpected happened. Tsing Hua does not want to accept my enrollment because I didn't finished my MS degree. They want me to present an MS diploma but I could not. I told everything to the program secretary and this is what she said (some things are better said in Filipino) “Nilagay mo kasi 'expected' kaya ka natanggap sa Tsing Hua.”. In the TIGP online application you are asked if you have already received your BS and MS degree and I put the date of my graduation for my BS Biochemistry degree but for my MS degree I 'expected' to finish it in May 2013 but I was not able to do so. For my MS degree I entered 'May 2013' under the 'expected' portion application form. I argued that in the admission requirements of TIGP Bioinformatics was you need a BS or an MS degree so I am qualified because I have a BS degree. “Pero binago nang gobyerno ang patakaran nitong Hulyo. Hindi na daw kami pwedeng tumanggap ng BS graduates”. This is what the program secretary told me. “Magkakaroon ng pagpupulong ang faculty at pag-bobotohan nila ang kaso mo.” I was shocked. I resigned from my work in Philippine Genome Center just to go to Taiwan and I have to submit my honorable dismissal in UP Manila. I even borrowed money from Filipinos here in Taiwan and this is what will happen to me. “Wala tayong magagawa at i-enjoy mo nalang ang pagtira mo dito sa Taiwan”. I told what happened to my Filipino and this is what he said “Expected nga eh! Hindi naman graduated!”. Another Filipino said “Hindi kasi malinaw yung application mo. Kapag sinabi mong 'expected' nakumpleto mo na yung requirements at hinihintay mo nalang yung diploma”. Everything has been said and done. TIGP Bioinformatics have now changed the admission rules a few days after my Tsing Hua brouhaha and this the new minimum admission requirement → Master's degree in biology, computer science, statistics or other related areas. (Must have the ORIGINAL copy of diplomat by registration).

I told my TIGP friends what happened. Rini (India) reacted “Oh my God! It's not your fault that the government changed the rules”. Haider said “Don't worry. Everything will be OK”. My PhD classmate Alcides (Peru) told me that I don't have to worry because I received admission letters from TIGP and NTHU and it's not my problem if they made a mistake. “Binigyan ka ng admission letter at tinanggap ka. Pwede mong ilaban ito sa korte. Hindi lang pera na ginastos mo ang dapat nilang ibalik sayo kung sakali. Yung oras mo, yung trabaho, yung buhay mo. Nabago na lahat. Pumunta ka ng Taiwan hindi dahil gusto mo. Pumunta ka dito kasi pinapunta ka, kaya hindi ka nila pwedeng pauwiin”. His words made me calm and he was very logical and I will always have my respect to my good friend Alcides. I don't know what happened to the faculty meeting but after a few days the program secretary told me. “We will send a formal letter to Tsing Hua. You just need to do what you need to do”. She told me that I just need to attend my classes and do things like a normal TIGP student would do. After a few weeks I received my Tsing Hua ID and was so happy. Tsing Hua put me in the MS program and after a year I need to apply for the PhD program in Tsing Hua. My senior said that I just need to submit a research proposal and Tsing Hua will evaluate me if I am ready for PhD studies. There were also TIGP students who have similar cases like me and they were promoted from an MS student to a PhD student by this procedure.

If you have reached this paragraph, now you know the reason why this Taiwan Day 100 was so important to me. I was just so happy and as Alcides, Divya and Nikhil sang “Happy 100 Days” that sounds like the “Happy Birthday” song I couldn't stop smiling. [“Hindi lang abot tenga ang ngiti ko, abot langit pa!”]. Nikhil took a video while they were singing and as I blow my '100' candles I couldn't explain the joy that I have in my heart. Just watch the video that I will post soon and see how glad I was. It was also the first time that I saw myself smiling, happy and laughing when I was viewing the video. Haha! [“Meron na naman akong mga karanasan na idadagdag sa aking kaban ng tagumpay at kabiguan. Meron na naman akong paghuhugutan.”]

Later at night, we decided to go to Elephant Mountain as the sky was clear and the dark clouds suddenly disappeared. I even saw the moon. Alcides didn't join us in our outdoor activity as he was recovering from his sickness but Kidane joined us after his work from the lab was done. We took Bus 306 from TIGP Dorm and get off at Nangang Exhibition Center and took the MRT Bannan Line to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. We then transferred to the Brown Line and get off at Daan Station and then transferred to the newest line of Taipei Metro which was the Xinyi Line. We will be going to Xiàngshān or Elephant Mountain. “Xiang” means elephant while 'shan” means mountain. We can just walk from Taipei City Hall Station of the Bannan Line but I preferred to ride and transfer to different to trains so that our group could just relax and a talked a lot more. It was also convenient for us as the fare for using Xinyi Line was free because it just opened a few week ago. We have reached Xiangshan station, took some pictures and grab the newest Taipei Metro Tourist Map. They just updated the train map by adding the Xinyi Line which runs parallel to the Bannan Line. The Bannan Line was the only MRT line that runs in the east-west direction in Taipei and the government wants to lessen the number of people that uses this line and that's the purpose of the Xinyi Line. The Xinyi Line runs parallel to the Bannan Line.

After asking two Taiwanese ladies, we were able to find the start of the hiking trail of Elephant Mountain. The two ladies told us that it will just take us 15 minutes but it took more than that since we have to stop and take a rest since as we were catching our breath. It was dark but there were lamp post so tourist could see their way while climbing. The place was developed and the hiking trail were made of cemented stairs but you have to be careful as one wrong move and you could fall into a cliff. We are still in Taipei City as I said before Taipei City is being surrounded by mountains. This was my second hiking experience as the first one was in Taiwan Day 48. We reached the large boulders and we tried to climb this rocks and took a picture. My camera could not get great photos and videos at night but still I will have a remembrance of this glorious night. I have a photo of myself with the Taipei 101 as the background. Elephant Mountain was the top attraction in Taipei according to tripadvisor and this was the reason why I want to go to visit this place for my Taiwan Day 100. You can enjoy the view of Taipei city by sitting at the large boulders and the highlight of the view was Taipei 101. The once highest building in the world was just in front me. Tall, majestic and sparkling just like my dreams when I came here in Taiwan.

After taking some photos and videos we decided to continue the hiking adventure. We are curious why is this place called Elephant Mountain. There must be something here that will mark this place as Elephant Mountain. We couldn't find anything at the top of the mountain. As we continue the trail, we stopped at an intersection. The Xiang Shan hiking trail is connected to the Nangang Shan Hiking Trail. Nangang is where Academia Sinica is located. If we took the Nangang Hiking Trail, we would reached Nangang in just 30 minutes and we are just very near TIGP dorm. Nikhil insisted that we take this path. Nikhil lead the way, I followed Kidane then Divya. Suddenly Divya got scared going down and she wants to go back. Nikhil insisted that we go down but Divya suddenly walked upwards, Kidane followed and I also followed. Nikhil was forced to climbed upwards. We found a new trail and Divya want us to take this trail. Everybody followed then suddenly we realized that there is no lamp post in this trail. Divya said “Oh God! I'm sorry!”. Divya wants us to go back but Nikhil said that we already made our decision and we continue with the trail. It was so dark in that trail. Just imagine four people going down a mountain deep into the forest with no flashlights. We just relied on the dim light coming out of lamp post in the other hiking trails. It was really dangerous. Snakes, scorpions, and wild animals could just come out and bite us. Suddenly, we found an elephant statue. Kidane told Divya “Divya, you made the right decision!”. We took pictures and video to document everything. We were able to go down and reached the city proper via Songde Road.

We are all hungry and we found a Taiwanese restaurant. The restaurant offers noodles where you can chose the ingredients that you want to be included in your hot pot. Nikhil didn't ordered as he was a vegetarian. As I promised I paid for the noodles of Kidane and Divya. I also ordered my hot pot. The total cost of the three hot pots was NT 395. I can say that it was cheap considering that I could not finish eating my noodles. The servings was just so large that you really need time to eat everything. It was my first time to eat Taiwanese noodles cooked the Taiwanese way. We were full and it was already 11:15pm when we left the restaurant. I think we were the last customers. We hurriedly looked for the MRT station and we were able to board the last train in Xiang Shan Station. The train was going to Taipei Main Station and then we transferred to the Bannan Line and we were able to board the last train going to Nangang Exhibition Center. It was around 11:45pm then. We went to Exit 5. Nikhil saw Bus 205 and he ran. I also followed and we were able to board the bus however Divya and Kidane were not able to run fast. The doors of the bus closed but the driver saw Kidane and Divya running and the bus waited for them and the two were able to ride the bus. Ah! Dark unknown trail, last restaurant, last train, last bus → This is what you call 'adventure'.

We were able to reached TIGP Dorm. We ate again my cake and talked more. It was my best travel experience so far. It was really fun going out with your friends. Kidane, Nikhil and Divya really made an effort to join me in my celebration of my 100th day in Taiwan. They want my Taiwan Day 100 to be special. I checked my ipod Touch and it was already Dec. 10, 2013. It's Taiwan Day 101. A new era begins...

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