There’s no Snooze Button for Earthquakes

The last week started with a nightmare. I do not remember what I dreamed exactly, but I felt my bed was shaking like crazy for a remarkably long time. ‘What a weird dream!’, I thought when I woke up. Later at university I came to know that it was no nightmare, but a real earthquake, which aroused me from my sleep. Having slept afterwards again, the earthquake just felt like a dream. And it was my first one in Taiwan so far. Usually they happen every once in a while as Taiwan is situated just at the edges of the Eurasian and the Philippine Sea plate. In this case it was a surprise that the earthquake was even felt in Taichung, although its center was 160km away. With a strength of 5.7 it was at least strong enough to shake me out of my dreams.

I always try to keep this blog as generally speaking as possible. However, some of my readers asked me to tell something about my personal everyday living in Taiwan. So as a compromise I will try to outline a typical day for a student in Taiwan – and some specialties of mine.


8:30 am: Breakfast – Four eggs a day keep the doctor away

If I am not awakened by an earthquake, I usually get up at 8 am. A good start to the day necessarily has to include a good breakfast! It is interesting that most Taiwanese students have their breakfast not at home, but outside. Generally, Taiwanese have most of their meals outside, at least singles. This is due to the relatively high costs of food in supermarkets and convenience stores compared to the very cheap prices for the delicious meals you can find on the street. For the same reason, having so many students and professionals eating outside, there are plenty of cafés, restaurants and breakfast places in nearly every street of the city – especially near universities. Common dishes for breakfast are egg rolls, fried noodles, beef soup, hamburgers, toast, sandwiches, Taiwanese turnip cake and many others.

Even though there are so many, I usually go to the same places on a regular basis and I have two favorites. In one of them they already know me and greet me by my Chinese name, 沃特 (by the way, according to Google Translator these two characters, put separately, stand for fertile and special – I could imagine worse greetings than ‘Good morning, 沃特!’). My western taste does not really allow me to have fried noodles or beef soup for breakfast, so I usually have toast, egg rolls or sometimes a turnip cake (which is delicious!). At the beginning I wandered what effects it might have if I eat egg every day. In the meantime I realized that there are few meals in Taiwanese cuisine, which do not contain egg. After asking, a Taiwanese friend affirmed me that it is very probable that many Taiwanese eat three or four eggs a day – or even more.


A typical breakfast: Egg roll with vegetables


9:10 – 12:00 am: Morning lecture

One big difference between German and Taiwanese class schedules is that in Taiwan (at least in my university) you only have two or three lectures a day. The morning lecture and the afternoon lecture are three hours each and if you have an evening course it takes usually two hours. For a German this might be unfamiliar and also hard with regard to following the same class for three hours. But after a while you get used to it. One approach of the professors to make these three hours as interesting as possible (and here I am again speaking about my program at least) is to invite guest speakers from industry or science, who have a part of the lecture to hold a presentation about their work or field of studies.

Another common didactic method is to let the students present themselves. Additionally, there are many scientific papers to write. Basically there is no week in which the students of my program do not have to hold a presentation or hand in an assignment. This has one positive effect for the grading: As grades are not only based on one final exam (as in Germany for example), students can get good grades by continuously delivering good work and one slip-up does not affect the final grade too much. On the other hand it is more work during the semester of course. Besides that, there are not only final, but also mid-term examinations.


12:00 – 2:00 pm: Lunch brake

As described above, especially around universities there are many different restaurants. They are of all kinds of cuisines, some offering different Chinese dishes, others Japanese, Korean, Indian or vegetarian food, as well as burgers or pasta. Just as the breakfast, lunch and dinner are very cheap in Taiwan. The prices in common restaurants and stands range between 50 NTD and 150 NTD, which are between two and five Euros.

A two hours lunch brake is very practical and can – besides eating – be used for printing some material for the next lecture, doing some shopping for the household or just for chilling on the beautiful campus. The lucky students who live close to the campus might even go home and have a nap.


The campus: The big lake and the small one on its right represent the map of China and Taiwan


2:00 – 5:00 pm: Afternoon lecture

After the brake the afternoon lecture begins. Depending on the schedule you might not have both morning or afternoon lectures every day. A visit of the campus may still be nice: Most universities in Taiwan have very beautiful campuses. This is attractive especially for the students who don’t like studying at home. Several cafés and convenience stores make it even more pleasant. As my university has several departments in the field of biology, agriculture and cultivation, you can find a large variety of plants and even many different animals such as turtles, geese and other birds on the campus.


A large variety of free-living animals on our campus: Turtles at the lake


5:00 – 7:00 pm: Dinner

Depending on if you have an evening course or not, you may have dinner at this time. Anyway it is quite common in Taiwan that restaurants close very early. In many restaurants you will not get dinner anymore after 8:00 pm – unless you are in one of the hot spots of the city. If you are hungry after that time you can still find delicious snacks on the night markets, which are open until late night.


7:00 – 9:00 pm: Evening course

Not all students have an evening course, nor do they have it every day. I personally have a Chinese course every Tuesday after a morning and an afternoon lecture. This sounds more exhausting than it is. The Chinese course is good fun. Talking a lot about food, the vocabulary we learn is actually helping a lot. After only half a year it is of course impossible to speak good Chinese. But at least these are things, which can really be applied in everyday life – if you take enough time for studying…


THE meeting point at the campus: We call it Titanic


9:00 pm – who knows: Leisure time

In the leisure time many students practice sports. This can be done in the gym, but also university provides a lot of possibilities and facilities to join groups and practice many different types of sports. As there is a lot of work to do for university, much of the leisure time is used for studying, but most exchange students do not have many courses and accordingly more free time than I have for instance.

But the more free time you have, the more you can enjoy the sweet student’s life. It is not unusual that many students go out on weekdays. Sad to say there is no big bar culture in Taiwan. Speaking for the city I live in, people rather drink beer in private or young people go clubbing. Also very popular are karaoke bars, which western people might not be too familiar with. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way: In case you do not find any adequate location for having a cold beer in the off-hours and if the weather is not too bad, there is still one place you can always go – the campus! So as you can see, even for closing a long study day the campus is a good place to be for a student. And hopefully, if you don’t drink too many beers, your bed won’t feel like moving when you finally go to sleep.