My name is Diarra Clarke, a rising junior hailing from Pittsburgh, PA. As a freshman I traveled to Hampton, Virginia and attended Hampton University for a year on a 5-year fast track MBA program for Entrepreneurship. Now, being at Chatham, I am working on a self-design major entitled Women’s Entrepreneurship & Institutional Culture. I’m also on campus working here at the Business & Entrepreneurship Department! In the B&E Department, students are encouraged to travel, study abroad, and experience diverse opportunities. Chatham University’s Maymester program, a 2 week express semester that takes place directly after finals in April, offers Chatham students the opportunity to travel abroad or stay on campus and take part in a special course.
Since I was a young girl my family traveled every summer so, naturally, I took the chance, updated my passport, and checked the box for “Travel to Taiwan”. During our second semester all of the students who signed up to travel abroad during their Maymester term took courses that would prepare us for our adventure. The course was East Asian Studies, focused on the history of East Asia, cultural practices, and language. Thankfully, Chatham offers a diverse choice of places to study abroad- Indonesia, Taiwan, Sweden, and more. And the destinations change from year to year. I chose Taiwan and studied small businesses and culture. The main areas in the Taiwan visit was Taipei and Taichung. Read on for the interesting things we did on our trip (mostly about food…and SHOPPING!).
Taipei, Taiwan welcomes you to the Shilin Night Market! It is a moped-zooming, fast food catering, top city shopping district. This market is busier than any other we visited on our trip- no room for sassy hands on the hips or erected umbrellas- it is packed! I am going to take you through the expressway of fashion, culture, and food all in one zone. Taipei offered a different experience than I’ve ever had, and it left me with the most rewarding feeling of exhaustion by the end of every night. I shopped fanatically, and took pictures of everything! So here is an illustration of the Taiwanese culture that we observed and interacted with face-to-face, through a camera lens, and at a beautiful night market in Taipei.
On a single market strip, we could find fruit every 10 feet to the left or right. The renowned stinky tofu found our nostrils before our eyes could identify it four carts down the street. And, not to worry, if you were wary of the wretched smell of the stinky tofu, you could seek out the chicken skin and fried mushrooms. Just make a turn at the shoe market- no, not the yellow one, the blue one- and then look to your right. The point I am making is that food was EVERYWHERE at all times, and if we were being adventurous and decided to venture into streets unnamed and allies unmarked, we could even find an American-themed restaurant with milkshakes, pies, and burgers.
The streets of the market were cacophonous and fascinating. And admittedly, it was a bit of a sensory overload. The sheer volume of people prompted fight-or-flight responses. And although the over-stimulation could make you nauseous, it was also exhilarating!
Understanding the market and going with the flow also taught the importance of keeping up with the group, eyes peeled for your people and belongings, as you rush past children of all ages, teens belonging to other groups, and mopeds which took first priority. Through the populated areas, just a blink and you could lose track of a buddy or counselor! And if not for some wonderful leadership skills, navigational training, and practiced orientation, you would be lost in the sea of high fashion and food stands!
Shilin Night Market was filled with people. Judging by the gawks and stares, most of them were residents, and we were definitely the tourists. At every tenth step you could find an abundance and variety of food ranging from fresh cut fruit- preserved and washed in salt water (yeah, imagine a taste of salty mango…), and a mix of different meats. The predominant meat preferences seemed to place pork as number 1, beef and chicken tied for 2nd , and lamb or other meats taking bronze. That in itself was a big shock to most of the students in our group. We expected, Taiwan being a Confucian society, there would be more vegetarian options both in number and in quality. However, I think, and confirmed vegetarians may feel differently, the choices beyond noodles and tofu were sparse and rather underdeveloped in taste and seasoning compared to what we find in the States. But when it came to the chicken, don’t fret on flavor! In Fengchia Markets the Chatham students were paired with local students from Tunghai University and they gave us the best tour ever! In one single aisle of stands, there was the new and exotic Korean chicken that featured balls of pasta similar to the texture of gnocchi fried in a sweet ginger sauce (yum!); Devil’s Fried Chicken which was a huge chicken breast double-fried in an orange batter that can be personalized with sweet or heat sauces; and chicken skin… yes it was literally the skin of the chicken, and it was shamefully delicious.
Hungry yet? We were eating for what felt like hours on end, and I loved every second of it! The tastes were so unique, and when you followed the flow of how the Taiwanese students do it, you can pick up pre-paid food every other step in the market. Kevin, my guide, explained to me that the most efficient and fulfilling way of experiencing the market was to pick what foods you wanted, pay there, take the ticket, and go to the next thing. That way, as you backtrack on the other side with the shops you could make a quick diversion, pick up the hot meal to-go, and get back on the trail of shopping. And if you aren’t exhausted by the time you get to the corner of the market, then you are quite the trooper! But if you are anything like most of the boys and older women that shopped there, you would be tucked away in a reflexology-focused massage studio or spa. They have it all thought out over there! The shopping prices were anything from a good thrift store to a high-end New York boutique in conversion. And they loved a good barter; haggling was even expected. For $250 US dollars, I purchased a variety of things (28 total pieces): jewelry, teas, incense and clothes for all events and seasons.
I enjoyed myself so much during this trip and, most specifically, the night markets. The people were nice and loved to attempt conversations with you about America, if they spoke English, or if I remembered the little Chinese I picked up. If ever you are looking for a good getaway in a tropical and mountainous setting, love food, bubble tea, and good bargains, I will tell you now to head to Taiwan!
The entire class took part in blog write-ups of different things that we fell in love with on our trip, see them here– along with pictures!
Written by: Diarra Clarke
Edited by: Diarra Clarke and The B&E Team