I’ve never understood why almost every single study abroad blog I’ve read have this gap in the middle and then a post apologizing for the lack of content because of midterms and projects and homework and falling behind and itjusttakesalotoftimetocatchup etc etc etc but I get it now.
The middle of the semester is cray. There’s a lot I want to write about, but the writing needs to come in short bursts between my CS project, health behavior presentations, and museum class trips.
But! But! I have something really exciting to share: NTU’s Field Geology Survey course!
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We went to the Hengchun Peninsula and covered Jialeshui, Longpan Park, Baolichi, Shimen, Sangou, Maobitou, Wanlitong, and Guanshan.
It’s a special class with sections in both English and Chinese. Instead of regular meetings, we have a half-day pre-class introduction to the geology in Taiwan, then a 4-day 3-night trip to southeastern Taiwan to see the rocks firsthand.
The drive down takes a while, around 6 hours. But with 5 NTU tour busses going down, and rest stops every 2 hours, it’s not so bad. As you get closer, you get to visit a 7-11 that’s right at the edge of the beach! That water gradient ❤
In Taichung we stopped at the 921 Earthquake museum, where you can see the effects of Taiwan’s biggest earthquake in recent history. This used to be an elementary school building. Thankfully the earthquake occurred at nighttime. Field note: damage is more severe on the hanging wall.
Curved railroad tracks due to land displacement.
For the actual field survey, it’s intense. In 30 degree Celcius weather, we go on a tight schedule to various parks and coastal plains. We climb over visitor barriers (the instructors applied for special permission beforehand so we literally get to go the path less traveled, ie the one where normal people are not supposed to go), then make our way past tall corals, steep hills, and assorted geographical obstacles.
I’m always so relieved when I finally make it to the other side, because as I’m pushing and scaling the cliffs there’s always a small voice in the back of my mind wondering if I’ll ever get there. The view’s pretty great once you get to the other side though. It’s like a secret beach nobody but me and 180+ other NTU students get to see.
At every stop, we hike/descend/climb/crawl our way to a prime viewing location, then the professor starts giving a lesson. Yes, as in, everyone just finds a random patch of uplifted coral to stand on, squint in the blazing sun, and listen to a lecture about how the current location shows that Taiwan was once submerged underwater.
Look, human Powerpoint! Our TAs are geology graduate students, and they’re so helpful. I especially admire their ability to (usually) pick out the correct scroll based on a small cue from the professor.
Taiwan is an island that was formed from the collision of the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Plate, and it formed from the Northeastern side and has grown in the Southwestern direction. Along the coastal region there is limestone that formed from dead coral; coral can only grow under sea level, so all of this coral has been pushed up by tectonic movement! There are also lots of sedimentary rocks, and deposits that are left over from the grinding between two plates.
At some locations, every group gets a rock hammer, and you can hack away at the rocks around you to find fossils, or guess what type of rock you’re looking at. It’s like that mini game in Pokemon where you get to mine for rocks and you just keep tapping the screen with your stylus, except these rocks are real and when you break them open you can actually see the crystals! And then you take your rock to the TA and proudly tell her/him that this is a metamorphic rock because there are crystals. Or maybe it’s igneous. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
There are two competition-esque events, one for identifying the most different types of rocks at Shimen, and the other for classifying the most different types of fossils at Sangou. The professor said the group with the highest wins, but it’s been weeks and they still haven’t announced the winners, so I’m not sure if that was actually the case. But once we got over the fact that the road to the Sangou area was unreasonably treacherous–devoid of any path, overabundant in fallen bamboo, much too steep to properly hike (especially because an easier path down exists, but they just wanted us to ‘experience’ it)—it was fun to lay out all the shells we dug out and match them with the pictures in our field guidebook.
Dinner on the second day was free time, so a group of us rented vehicles and headed to the streets of Kenting. There’s a big night market there, and multiple beaches. People! Cars! Street food! Ocean sounds!It’s a good time.
I love the hustle and bustle, and seeing the bright lights again after days in the wilderness. I wish we had stayed in a hotel closer to the city center, but instead our hotel is pretty far away from everything. We tried grilled xiaolongbao, shaved ice, okonomiyaki… Yum. It makes you not want to go back in time for room check at 10:30 PM.
The next day at 5AM we went to the beach again before the buses leave at 7:30AM. It’s lovely, of course. The wind was cool, the beach was largely empty, and the waves were their usual rhythmic selves.
The food was aite. In light of Taiwan’s reputation as a culinary paradise, one might even call it subpar. Especially the restaurant food served family style on the first day.
On expedition days lunch is bento, and it’s eaten at a bare campground location. Somehow bags and bags and bags of bento are magically transported to this place in the middle of nowhere, and we eat hastily before hurrying off for more hiking.
On the last night there is a BBQ banquet, again at this location. It was super fun! I love cooking. Every table had around 10 people, and there are plates of raw meats, tempura, bell peppers, etc for you to grill right over the coal pit in your table.
Afterwards, there’s a talent show by the students. NTU students are such a silly, loud, talented bunch. I love them. Even in a jank campground area with a bare stage, it’s fun and festive with singing, game shows, dances, and riddle solving. The international students bus sang 童話 and danced the Macarena 😉
I’ve made more friends in these 4 days than from all of my other classes combined. I think it’s because we room together, sit on the bus together for hours, hike together, dig together, struggle through homework together, and laugh together. Unless you absolutely can’t stand nature and would hate geology, I’d recommend this course based on the friends alone.
I can’t put accurately express the fun we had, when we weren’t dying from the physical exertion. From photoshoots to giggles to our post-trip karaoke outing… I’m so glad I met them!
There is a final multiple choice test you need to take when you return, so on the last day our professor recapped our trip for us. We stood atop Guanshan, overlooking the Hengchun Peninsula, to the mountains and ocean. It was quite surprising to see how much we covered in just 4 days.
And when you finally do return, waking up to midterms and ambulance sirens, you just might forget how excruciatingly hot it was, and start to wish you were back there.