University Freshman: Year 1 Semester 1

(Wordy post ahead)

Phew! I finally got the time to blog now that the semester has officially ended! Actually my last paper was 2 weeks ago but procrastination got the best of me as usual 😛

Anyway I hope I am able to document every semester at the end of it because this is probably my last education stage if I have no means to further my studies financially (unless I decide to join the teaching force, that is!). And hopefully it’ll give a very good insight of University life especially for those who are gunning for a spot in NTU.

If you have followed my stories on University application, you would have figured that I had missed out on orientation camps or other freshmen activities planned way before I was admitted. That did not bother me since I am not a camp person to begin with, so even if I had the chance to go, I’d most likely not attend as well (haha). But to be honest, I was a little jittery when I went to school for the very first time for an orientation programme because I knew no one there. And to make it more awkward for me, the orientation started off with a lunch reception, so imagine my horror when I discovered myself surrounded with cliques who knew one another from camp. But I knew the feeling would be temporary, and I was right!

I forced myself to mingle (man I’m amazed at myself sometimes). I took some food and attempted to look for a table with a space big enough to fit me in. Unfortunately each clique was rather big so many tables were fully occupied! But then I found a table that had only 3-4 students.

“Can I sit here?” I asked.

So took the seat after getting approving nods from everyone at the table. Then one of the girls (a senior just there to mingle with the freshmen) there spoke.

“Do you know one another?”

And surprise, surprise! All of us shook heads! I count my lucky stars! Apparently I was at a table with.. how can I put it? Rejects? Nah, just people who never went for camp! That was how I made my first batch of Uni friends 😛 Very impromptu right? Oh and also at that table, I know one from Singapore Polytechnic too! But 2 years my junior 🙂

So you don’t need to go through torturous days of camp to make friends. In fact I never went for orientation camps in my entire life, haha! If you are thick-skinned enough, you should be able to make friends during orientation programmes (and group projects) too!

The first 2 weeks in NTU were a blurry mess to me but I figured everything out all on my own without the help of any seniors. I practically read up on STARS, STARS Planner, AUs, subject exemptions for Poly graduates and other NTU jargon when I’m at home most of the time because it is just so different in Poly! Now I have to be fully responsible for my timetable and the planning part of it really takes up a lot of my time -_-

Because I understand the pain and confusion freshmen go through during their first semesters, I shall compile a detailed list of what to take note of for the benefit of (potential) NTU freshmen who have no one to seek help from! 🙂

1. Add/Drop Period

The first 2 weeks of the semester are the second most important period (apart from exams period of course!) because that’s when you have to register for courses and apply for exemption of courses (if you are from Poly like me). The former is also what we call the Add/Drop period because you are able to add courses to your timetable and drop them if you don’t like them subsequently after attending the lessons! You can do so during these 2 weeks without any penalty and after which, any courses that remain in your timetable would be your confirmed ones throughout the semester. To me the Add/Drop period is like 2 weeks of trial lessons, hahaha! I once wrongly registered for a Translation class without realising that it was conducted entirely in Mandarin! I was in a state of shock throughout the 1.5 hour-tutorial and immediately dropped that course when I went home. But do bear in mind that lessons are conducted as per normal during these 2 weeks, so do not have the silly thinking (like me) that the lessons would be all introductory during this period! Hence it’d be good if you read up on the previous weeks’ lecture notes or watch recorded lectures before turning up for the next (and your first) one so that you know what’d be going on in class. If there are no recorded lectures (or if you do not have high perseverance level to watch the 1.5-hour long video), it would be better to print out the powerpoint slides.

I am sure many have heard of NTU’s very own STARS Wars, right? Basically it’s a system (named by NTU students) whereby courses are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis, so the fastest fingers always get their desired courses. However with effect from this academic year (I think), courses are now allocated randomly on a daily basis (hence the name is now Add/Drop instead of STARS Wars hahaha!). So it does not matter if you are the last to register the courses on that day because ultimately the system would CHOOSE by drawing lots -_- You only know if you get the course(s) after the Add/Drop system closes for the day, perhaps around 10pm, through e-mail. I personally prefer STARS Wars though because response is immediate.

2. Planning your timetable

Prior to that, students usually plan their timetable first and then attempt to add the courses on the first day of the Add/Drop period using the STARS planner with just a click of a button. The list of courses on the planner (which you can select directly from) are not exhaustive as some may be left out, so I’d usually refer to this list which has a more comprehensive description of each course. If I like what I read, I’d copy the course code and paste it into the empty field. If it is a valid code AND is offered in that semester, you should be able to choose your preferred time slot (i.e. index number) under the drop-down menu after clicking “Plan” (unless there is only one available time slot). Otherwise, the drop-down menu would not show anything! Also ensure you have fulfilled the prerequisites (if any)! Usually Poly graduates are the only freshmen to have fulfilled them in their first semesters 😛

I took 6 courses in Semester 1 and it was quite manageable (apart from having to take 5 papers). So I guess 6 (18 AUs) is the norm? And just because NTU offers foreign languages as electives for free like that, I wouldn’t recommend loading your timetable with more than 1 foreign language because 1 I already cannot tahan. It really takes up a lot of your memory space!

3. Your pre-allocated courses by the school before Add/Drop period

If you are a freshmen, you would already have certain CORE courses allocated to your timetable so that you won’t begin the first week of school with no classes to attend. You can check what courses you have been registered for here (under Print/Check Courses Registered) and they should already be reflected on your timetable before your orientation programme (so that you can use it as a common topic/ice breaker when mingling around LOL SERIOUS). Of course, you may drop CORE courses and take them again in another semester. But I wouldn’t do it in exchange for non-CORE ones la.

4. Course exemptions for Poly graduates

So anyway back to course exemptions for Poly graduates. The deadline to apply for exemptions is NOT on the last day of the add/drop period. If I remember correctly, it should be at the end of the first week or in the middle of the second. You have to download a form from the WKWSCI website (if you are going there. Otherwise it should be on your faculty’s website?) and submit it to the in-charge via e-mail. It can be done even before the first week of school and of course, you can also submit the hard copy to the office. But before submission, you’d also need to contact your Poly course coordinator and request for a course syllabi to be sent to your school as well (or to you if possible) because they’d need it to determine if you can be exempted. Oh and not forgetting all your Poly transcripts! Don’t ask me why they need the copies again… Do be sure that you had attained at least a B+ for that module you are matching against!

I tried matching  my Poly modules with the list here (only Year 1 and Year 2 courses though) and I was eventually exempted from 8 modules (4 of which are CORE) worth 24 AUs. The maximum number of AUs you can exempt from is 32 but subjected to approval. But even so, I went all out and tried to match as many modules as I could because there is no guarantee that I’d be exempted from all! What I didn’t know until 5 weeks ago (-_-) was that this course exemption exercise is not restricted to courses just in WKWSCI. In other words, if you have gone through a Business module in Poly for example, you can also match it against a Business course in NTU which would eventually be your exempted elective! Sigh, I could have exempted from more courses if I knew about this earlier! Because all exemptions have to be done during the first week of your first semester 😦

EDIT (6 May 2015): With effect AY2015/2016, polytechnic students can only be exempted up to 12 AUs (instead of 24) for GERPE/UE type courses only. In other words, you can no longer get exempted for CORE modules even if you have gone through something similar in Poly. [source]

5. Academic Units System (AUS) and other NTU jargon

Also, exempted courses are not graded and would not be included in the computation of your cumulative GPA. But the AUs tagged to your exempted courses will be awarded to you 🙂 However do note that you’d need at least 69AUs of graded courses AND 128AUs in total to graduate! So you cannot exempt like shiok only (actually it’s also not possible since the max is 32AUs, LOL)

With effect AY2011/2012, all Year 1 students admitted to the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information will adhere to the following curriculum structure. CS students MUST complete a minimum of 128 AUs (CORE- 47, Major PE/CORE Elective- 24 AUs, GER-CORE – 12 AUs, GER-PE/GER- Electives – 15 AUs and GER-UE- 30 AUs).

– WKWSCI website

  • CORE are compulsory courses required to satisfy programme requirements. To know what the CORE are in WKWSCI, click here by concentration or here by year of study! Technically the CORE in Year 1 are CS2002 Information Literacy, CS2005 Speech and Argumentation, CS2006 Visual Literacy and Communication, CS2008 Fundamentals of Research. The other CORE are GER-CORE which are also CORE to us la somehow.
  • Major PE/CORE Elective are courses for specialisation in a particular degree programme (e.g. journalism). You can also refer to the two lists I’ve hyperlinked above pertaining to this.
  • GER-CORE are courses relating to Communication Skills (CS0201 Foundations of Communication Studies, CS0204 Basic Media Writing), Singapore Studies (CS0203 Media in Singapore) and Environmental Sustainability (CS0900 Communication Strategies for Sustainability and Social Changes)
  • GER-PE/GER-Electives are courses that can be outside of WKWSCI but has to be one of the sub-areas of studies – Art, Humanities & Social Sciences (AHSS), Business & Management (BM), Liberal Studies (LS), Science, Technology & Society (STS).  In other words, you need to have at least 1 GER-PE from AHSS, BM, LS and STS categories. You can find out the categorisation from the STARS Planner!
  • GER-Unrestricted Electives (or just UE) are ANY courses around NTU, such as foreign languages and other japalang courses which may interest you. Some courses can be opted as either GER-PE or UE. It’s totally up to you!!

6. Getting to your classes

The best way, I swear, to familiarize yourself with the school is by getting lost. I get lost everyday ALONE on the first 2 weeks because NTU is so damn huge (but after awhile it doesn’t look that huge anymore), getting caught in the rain and subsequently late for my class, missing my stop, alighting one stop earlier.. Wow, hahaha

But of course, you should do some research at home first, like finding out where the nearest bus stop is, where the classroom is nearest to, so on and so forth. Maybe give yourself 30 minutes of buffer time. And if you are really lost, ask any passers-by! These are times you really shouldn’t bother about people thinking that you’re a freshie because really no choice ma!

The next thing to know is the shuttle bus service around NTU which is VERY VERY useful for days which you have classes all around NTU and walking would take like 15-20 minutes? There are 4 shuttle buses (including Weekend Rider) in the school and one of them goes to Pioneer MRT station but because it’s to the train station, the bus does not go to every bus stop in school to prevent overcrowding! More details on the shuttle bus service here (it looks less cluttered and more user-friendly on mobile but if I’m not wrong, the stops are not sorted in order on mobile). Not forgetting that the service is free………….. Okay not really la, you pay through your school fees.

7. NTU culture

Another difference in culture between Poly and NTU is probably how we identify/call the courses. In Poly (not sure about the others), we call the modules by their initials (or rather, acronyms) like for example, we call Mass Media Research MMR for short even though they also have module codes tagged to them. But hor, in NTU I don’t know why everyone likes to call the courses by their code number, like CS0900 Communication Strategies for Sustainability and Social Changes, they call it 900? Why, is it because the acronyms are too long?? Being mathematically and numerically-challenged, I find it so difficult to adapt. Even freshmen automatically get this habit after awhile. I once tried to identify to someone a course by its acronym and all I got was a blank look, followed by a “You mean 2005?” a few seconds later.

Also, don’t expect scoring rubrics for projects you are tasked to do, because THEY DON’T HAVE THEM! 😦 So sometimes you really don’t know which part of the project to beautify and put in more effort on because you just don’t know how the marks are allocated. Oh well I guess NTU just wants its students to put in effort for every single thing la!

8. Using clickers

NTU is so cool we have to use clickers in some lecture theatres. I’m lying it’s not cool. I actually hate it.

Anyway every freshman is given a clicker (together with your matriculation card) just in case you’d need it la. But it’s on loan. HAVE TO RETURN ONE once you graduate!! So I really don’t know why some people go and bling it..

How to use the damn clicker:

If you’ve been to any NTU lecture theatre, you would see some numerical digits printed on a white paper pasted near the projector screen. That is the channel of the lecture hall. You have to set the channel first before you can respond through the clicker:

  • Press and release the “Ch” button (“GO” for the older model).
  • While the light is flashing red & green, enter the 2 digit channel code (i.e., Channel 1 = 01, Channel 21 = 21 and so on).
  • After the second digit is entered, press and release the “Ch” button.
  • A steady green light should appear. If not, repeat steps 1 to 3

NTU Clickers Website

Then comes the next and final part which is not mentioned anywhere! WALAO Because of this I lost 25% of my marks for one of my courses which required clickers!! I am so so pissed. More details later.

So to respond through the clicker, you just have to press the button with the number that corresponds with the option number of the answer! THAT’S IT! JUST ONE BUTTON. IT’S SO EASY BUT I DIDN’T KNOW. You know what I had been doing? I followed the same steps as channel setting! Actually how would anyone know!? GRRRRRRR.

9. Getting your textbooks (or required text)

I won’t say that it is compulsory (unless your profs decide to be difficult and test you on the content of your required text) to buy textbooks if you pay attention in class and jot down notes diligently, but they will definitely come in handy when you do your revision. University textbooks, especially for specialised subjects like Art, Design and Natural Hazards, are hardly ever available in the school’s bookshop (used to be Yun Nan Bookstore until mid 2014. Popular has since taken over). To get them, you often have to place an order with the shop and the books would only be available in a few days’ time. Sometimes it could take weeks.

However, textbooks are mostly very expensive because they are not like your secondary school books that are written and printed locally. They are authored by renowned experts and a lot of them are imported from somewhere far away. But I don’t find it worthwhile to spend so much on something that you’d only use for one semester. The solution? Get a photocopied version (some campus bookstores may do it discreetly but you gotta find out which yourself), find an online free version or buy a second-hand one. Before you do so, do ensure that the book is in the correct edition.

Here are some platforms which students use to sell their textbooks:

Carousell (app)
Hardwarezone
Bookfishing

If you can afford to wait, sometimes even sites like Amazon would offer your textbooks at a relatively lower price.

10. S/U option

If you find yourself doing not so well for courses you have added and confirmed, you can exercise your S/U option (which stands for Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) on them! Once you have converted them to S/U grading, you will only be graded S (if you pass or even if you get an A) or U if you fail or if I’m not wrong, get below a C? These grades will not be included into your GPA so it’s like you’re taking the courses for fun (but still must pass la otherwise you’d have to retake I guess and it won’t look nice on your transcript). But of course good things come with a limit. You can only use this option 4 times in your 4-year course (and 3 for 3-year). 😦

This option is available 2-3 weeks before your final paper so you’d have plenty of time to consider and evaluate after getting your marks for your first few quizzes for example! Otherwise, you can still decide after sitting for the paper as the declaration period lasts ’til the final examination week. Read more here.

With effect from academic year 2014, freshmen can automatically exclude up to six courses for Grade Point Average (GPA) computation, if they do not attain a pass for their first attempt in their first year. They will retake the exams for those exempted courses and the grade for the second attempt will then be used to compute the student’s GPA. These changes were made to ease the freshmen’s transition into university. [Source]

11. Bus 179/179A

I thought I have to add this in because like many freshmen, I didn’t know the difference between 179 and 179A when I was in my first semester. All I knew was both buses go to NTU from Boon Lay interchange.. so, what’s that ‘A’ for? Seeing 179A buses drive past and refusing to stop despite getting flagged down at the bus stop opposite Pioneer MRT station never failed to puzzle me. It happened too many times to be ignored so one day, I took out my phone and Googled it on the spot.

Apparently, bus 179A does not stop at any of the bus stops outside NTU, hence making the journey faster especially during the morning rush hour (9.00am classes) when almost every bus stop is packed with people waiting for the bus. Thus, you can only board 179A from Boon Lay bus interchange (just 2 berths away from the 179 queue, on the left near the exit) but the service is only available until 9.30am. Any time later, you’d have to take bus 179. This service is not available during weekends, public holidays and NTU holidays.

Do not be alarmed if you see terribly long queues for bus 179A in the morning because it’s really not as bad as it seems. With the surprisingly high frequency for 179A and its amazingly short intervals (one behind another), be rest assured that there’ll be enough buses to carry everyone in the queue! So don’t be deterred and join the queue for 179 instead which is a really stupid decision because it’s such a waste of time.

Having said that, bus 179A does ferry students from the campus to Boon Lay bus interchange during the evening peak hours even though they don’t pick anyone up from the interchange itself during that time. Likewise, they skip all the stops outside NTU and go straight to the interchange. So, please ah, don’t be a suaku and press the bell for the bus to pull into Pioneer MRT bus stop. Everyone immediately knows that you’re a freshie if you do that and trust me, it’s super embarrassing.

* * *

Okay now let’s talk about what courses I took in Semester 1! Some courses.. really ah. I must WARN you all first before you register them. Don’t say I didn’t tell you guys! (-_-)

1. AB0603 Business Gone Green (UE)

This is a course from Nanyang Business School and a CORE for business students. The best thing about this course is that it’s NON-EXAMINABLE! So it’s purely graded based on your coursework which include 2 essays, 2 group presentations and other individual tasks. This is a relatively new course and I was in the pioneer batch! Because it’s non-examinable, I really didn’t pay much attention in class honestly (also because the lessons were super profound) and I just relied on the seminar notes when doing projects and I did okay! 😀 The class was fantabulous, full of energy and so-ever enthusiastic and I made a couple of friends from there. All groups tried so hard to make their presentations creative and interactive so there was a stiff competition! I actually added this course LAST because I wanted 6 courses and this was the last option. But I never regretted my decision!

2. BU8301 Fundamentals of Business Law (GER-PE, BM)

Let me just say that I loved this course so much (even though I may not get an A) because the content is so interesting and the professors are really engaging (with the exception of 1….). I have learnt so much from this course to the extent that I’m even applying what I’ve learnt in real life! I believe this is one of the more beneficial courses which really teaches you something. This is also a rather relaxed course because the final grade is dependent just on your class participation (20%) and your final paper (80%). No projects and no presentations! Just do your tutorial diligently every week and volunteer to answer them in class and you’d get your A+ for class participation! 😉 Oh but some tutorial groups replace their class participation with group projects (as in every week one group is assigned to present their answers for a tutorial and in my opinion, that’s super hard to score). However I believe the weightage for the final paper is a little too much ah.. So that’s one bad thing about it. But it is an open-book examination 😉

3. CS2023 or COM223 Publication Design (Major PE)

This is a course supposedly only for second year students because there is a prerequisite! But because I am exempted from the prerequisite course, I was allowed to take this. This is a very project-intensive course which uses InDesign very heavily, as well as a little bit of Photoshop. There is homework every week and 3 assignments spread out across the semester. The last assignment is a group project which involves creating a 20-page school newsletter. So.. perhaps take this if your design skills are not too bad? And even though there are design tutorials, you really need to do your own reading and research too because not everything will be taught in class! Oh and a Macbook is really recommended for this course because you’d be taught how to create eBooks using a software that can be only installed on Mac unless you don’t mind going back to the lab to complete your assignment. The final paper is also an open-book one!

4. DV2003 History of Graphic Design (UE) – S/U

I have a love-hate relationship with this course. Love because I enjoyed doing the group project and I am very sure I did pretty well for that. Hate because I flunked all my (pop) quizzes and I dislike the professor’s teaching style! No lecture notes would be provided and you would be expected to pen down the key points the professor said from scratch (and I am not very good at this). Because it’s conducted in the school of Art, Design and Media (and also its students’ CORE), I feel so overshadowed by their overwhelming knowledge in art. NOW I KNOW WHY I DON’T DESERVE A SPOT IN ADM. So as you can see, I didn’t do as well as I expected so there goes my first S/U option. The final paper is in essay format and requires a lot of memorizing to do well. Kinda reminded me of Social Studies..

5. ES8001 Natural Hazards, Climate Changes and Society (GER-PE, STS) – S/U

Whenever I tell a non-NTU student about this module, I’d always get a positive response because the name already looks cool on its own. But looks are definitely deceiving because I hated this course from the very first lesson. I couldn’t catch up on the lecture (it is a once-a-week, 3-hour lecture which covers 2-3 topics every time) because when I joined the class on the third week, it was already on the SEVENTH topic. There would also be in-class clicker quizzes worth 25% of the overall grade at the start of the lecture (so if you’re late, you’re dead) hence you would need to spend at least 1 hour watching online lectures before going for class. It was so time consuming and despite feedback from students, they still refused to change the structure of the assessment! Moreover, I wasn’t very familiar with the clicker so somehow my response for the first 5 quizzes didn’t get recorded and I got ZERO for them. Informed the course coordinator (or rather, his assistant) and was promised a solution but until now, I have not heard from her. I even followed up with her during my recess week and I even went up to her during lecture to voice my concern) and she assured me that she had not forgotten about us (apparently it wasn’t only me who was wrongfully marked zero). But it seems like she has indeed forgotten about us! -_-

There is no way you could understand the lesson without watching the videos because the notes were all pictorial with little to no text. -_- And don’t expect this course to be like the Seconds From Disaster documentary because it is NOT. It is so dry and technical. Can you believe that my very first lecture was on tectonics or measuring of earthquakes? :\ Calculations are totally not for me man.

There are 2 papers for this course – one mid-term and one final paper. Mid-term has a weightage of 25% and the final one 50% with 100 MCQs. Yes, even though the exam questions are all in MCQ, they can be really tricky too :\

But as much as I hated this course I couldn’t drop it because my first class was after the Add/Drop period 😦 So I had to S/U this! I’m probably the only freshman to have S/U two courses in her first semester!! But even though I had already S/U this, I probably will not even get an S 😦 Sigh, *fingers crossed*

6. LS9001 Spanish Language I (UE)

I wanted to continue with my French study but was denied the chance because I missed the placement test (couldn’t take the lowest level because I already learned a little of French in Poly). My next choice was Italian but because it was a highly popular course I couldn’t get it in the end. Thus I settled for Spanish, and I never once regretted my decision! I enjoyed the lessons (1.5-hour, twice a week class) so much that time passed so quickly when I was in the class. I really liked my Spanish teacher because she is engaging and really cares whether you understand what she teaches. Her name is Arancha (her real name is longer than this) and she usually teaches  the Tuesday and Thursday 12pm/1.30pm slots in case you’re wondering 🙂 There are in total 4 levels of Spanish language offered in NTU but they are still not enough to prepare you for DELE (Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language) though.

Knowing a little of French really did help me grasp the Spanish language better because they are rather similar. But because it is a completely foreign language altogether, you’d really need to spend some time practising and memorising vocabulary for example otherwise you would be lagging behind in class. But even though I like the language, I don’t think I did well for the final paper because the comprehension portion of it killed me. :\ You’d be tested through an oral examination (25% weightage. You and your partner have to converse in Spanish in front of the entire class and it was very stressful HAHA), a listening comprehension (10% weightage), 2 bring-home assessments (10% weightage each) and 2 test papers (total of 25%, one of which is the final paper) which cover Comprehension, Vocabulary, Grammar (conjugations) and Composition.

And that’s about it!

In less than 2 weeks’ time I would be getting my final grades for this semester (will be looking at my mail all the way in China) and I am really praying hard for a Pass for my Natural Hazards course! I have been hearing a lot about the bell curve and its horror stories but I am not a victim of it yet. Hopefully the bell curve does more good than harm to me 😦

Ok I really hope this post has benefited you in one way or another. Do drop me a comment if you need to know anything else not mentioned here! 🙂

Read also:
University Senior: Year 4 Semester 1 & 2
University Junior: Year 3 Semester 1
University Sophomore: Year 2 Semester 2
University Sophomore: Year 2 Semester 1
University Freshman: Year 1 Semester 2

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Taiwan, the Heart of Asia

Oh my god, guess what? It’s already December and this post was drafted in August! Hahaha oops.

I mentioned on my Beijing post that CTC offered my Bf and I a 1-for-1 trip to Taiwan in July BUT probably because of the bad timing (the June holidays had already ended) and the super warm weather there, they couldn’t get the minimum response to confirm the tour. So we had no choice but to take up their free-and-easy package (because our deposit of $1000 was stuck with them and we didn’t want to go through all the hassle of getting a refund) and explore Taiwan ourselves. It took us a lot of courage – okay maybe just me – to decide to go on our own because we don’t really like planning itineraries and prefer to let a third party settle everything for us. But I was still fine with it because I wanted to experience how it is like in Taiwan, and not travelling from places to places in a coach.

Bf and I have different purposes of going to Taiwan. If I am abroad, I would splurge on accessories or clothes that are probably cheaper or can’t be found here in Singapore. Bf on the other hand prefers to explore scenic places (gosh I hate those.. unless we’re in European countries – that will be a completely different issue) or anything that don’t require much spending. So imagine the bickering we had when we were planning our itinerary..  But ultimately shopping districts like Wu Fen Pu, Xi Men Ding still made it to our list! 😛 Oh and this was our first Taiwan trip!

The date of the flight remained unchanged even though it was no longer the 1-for-1 offer because we had already applied for leaves. But now instead of SIA, we travelled with China Airlines with in-flight entertainment. Nice and polite cabin crew but the experience was bad enough to deter me from flying with them again – especially at the return flight. Flight was delayed for at least 30 mins and air-con didn’t seem to work in the plane. Bf was sweating like a dog cos it was so stuffy! In-flight entertainment took forever to work so I gave up in the end. So yup, no China Airlines for me next time unless the price of the tickets is able to justify the kind of experience I get.

Touched down at Tao Yuan International Airport at 2pm-ish. The airport was undergoing a major makeover so it was a little challenging to get out as there were no visible directions but it’s alright. At the immigration counter, I was greeted by the immigration officer before checking my passport – wow! So unlike the Thai immigration officers the other time I went to Bangkok who were unfriendly and unwelcoming -_-

Taoyuan International Airport

Day 1

Our first plan upon arrival was to apply for internet access for Bf’s Ipad which was VERY IMPORTANT in getting us to places with its very fast, efficient and accurate Google Maps. While he was doing that, I went to apply for Youth Card (it’s a round red card with “aboriginal tribe pattern” that is meant for international youth aged 15-30) that may come in handy when we visit places like Taipei 101 and Taipei Zoo (no time to go both in the end) because the card would entitle us to discounts 🙂 We didn’t use the card in the end but I’m pretty sure it can still be used the next time we visit Taiwan!

Thereafter we were picked up from the airport (shuttle service) to Look Hotel, our lodging place throughout our stay in Taipei. It’s a very small but comfortable 4-star hotel located about 15-20 minutes walk from Taipei Main Station (TMS) with many many food stalls (小吃) around the area! But we didn’t want to be confined in just one area so we spent most of our time outside TMS. After we were done unpacking our luggages, it was already nightfall. We didn’t want to go too far from our hotel so we went to Shilin Night Market, just 5 stations away.

Look Hotel banner

Look Hotel reception

Our hotel surroundings

Food sold around our hotel

Taipei railway station

Station indicators. More accurate than the lousy Christmas lights MRT map in our trains -_-

The train station is probably the best place to understand and observe the locals’ mannerism and culture. It was a little of a culture shock to me when you really see them queueing up for the train and on the escalator (though they stand on their right), and leaving the priority seats vacant (trust me, those who took the seats and don’t seem to be old/handicapped/pregnant are foreigners. More dominantly, the PRCs judging from their accents). I was so amaaaaazed! Xiaoqing once saw a travelogue of Singapore on a Taiwanese channel and they marketed Singapore as a luxurious and well-to-do country. Imagine the Taiwanese’ shock and disgust when they see how we behave especially at MRT stations. -_-

Anyway, back to Shilin Night Market. From what I understand the night market also recently went through a makeover. It looked more organised as compared to the past (from pictures I saw online). Shall let the pictures do the talking:

We're almost there. View from the train station

Shilin Night Market - Welcome!

The revamped Shilin Night Market

Orh jian Taiwanese Version! Yumtums

Other yummy food we have yet to try! The sausages are HUMONGOUS in real life.

Shilin Night Market

Taiwanese really love their dogs! Another reason for staying there :)

Land of Ji Pa (Chicken Cutlet). Yum yum

Day 2

After reading so many reviews of Hello Kitty Sweets, I was so elated that I finally got the chance to try it! Anyone who has been to Taiwan would have definitely been to this restaurant and I can tell you that it’s not highly raved because of its theme (Hello Kitty) but because of its food! And for the record, I’m not a fan of Hello Kitty. Not at all! Xiaoqing who was there last year warned that the place is very popular even with the locals so reservation is definitely a must! Otherwise you’d have to queue with the rest or dine somewhere else because their waiting list is really MADNESS. Even if you get a table, you only have (I think) 90 minutes to eat? And there is a minimum spending of NT300.

So I heeded her advice and wrote in via e-mail to make a reservation for 2 in my horrible command of (traditional) Mandarin about 5 days in advance! Then I got a confirmation mail from them but if I didn’t turn up 15 minutes after the reservation time, the table would be given up to someone else. Because of this I was so kanchiong, took a cab down instead of the train because I knew I was gonna be late. Hahahaha!!

Hello Kitty Sweet is a VERY PINK restaurant so Bf felt really gay when he entered. But I, on the other hand, was a very happy girl because pink is my favourite colour! Hahaha. There I witnessed a family of 3 getting refused a table because they didn’t make reservation – even when they pleaded and assured that they would be done in 30 minutes – because there was no vacant table! So guys, please make sure you make reservation to avoid disappointment! They seriously don’t care if you travel all the way from America or Singapore to try their food. If there is no seats available, you’d have to dine elsewhere! (Yes I do agree they are pretty hostile)

Me at the entrance

What greet us at the entrance

The menu

Thousand Island Salad

I think this is clam chowder?

Salmon

Duck - don't be deceived by the poor appearance. It's really YUMMY

Apart from the gayness, the food was surprisingly good! Bf and I ordered a set meal each which came with salad, appetiser, soup and dessert (no drink sadly). There were I think 3 choices for the appetiser. Being kiasu Singaporeans, we wanted to try as many different dishes as  we could so I got myself salmon while Bf took duck (I forgot which part of the duck but it’s the only duck appetiser on the menu). Well, let me just summarize the appetisers in 2 words: NOT ENOUGH. Seriously, both were damn good, especially the duck! The salad was super yumtums too and I am not really fond of salad okay!! Oh, the soup also came with bread which is a common practice. BUT look:

HELLO KITTY IMPRINTED BUNS

Buns were soft like cushion and I loved them! I’m pretty sick of the hard, crunchy bread I kept having in Singapore so this was a refreshing change for me!

Even the drinks we ordered (a la carte) have Hello Kitty floating on them

Then came our main course! I had baked rice while Bf had this burger which I forgot what (sorry, it’s been awhile). They did not disappoint at all!

The burger Bf ordered. Even the bun is Hello Kitty shaped

My baked rice!

The carrot in my baked rice! Everything, everything is Hello Kitty

The dessert! The pudding is nice

Our takeaway cake

Us

I swear the food were simply delectable and the overall experience there deserves my 2 thumbs up even though I feel the hostility of the service crew. They were pretty reluctant to help take a photo for us but oh wells! They probably were too busy to entertain us! Nevertheless we left the restaurant with a very satisfied tummy AND a takeaway cake because it was so highly raved online as well! But we regretted later because..

Our next stops were Wu Fen Pu and Raohe Night Market. We tried clearing our bowels (hahaha) before entering into these food zones. When we were there we practically pigged out! I am very sure I gained a few kilos at Raohe. Thankfully as most people know, Wu Fen Pu has more wearables than edibles so by the time we went to Raohe Night Market, I was near bankrupt and couldn’t afford anymore food! But because Bf didn’t buy much stuff at Wu Fen Pu, he was still pretty loaded with NTD so I stole the food that he bought! *facepalm*

Civilised locals queueing up for the train! Singaporeans are getting there too

TW's very own fine notices

Going to Wu Fen Pu...

We're reaching! Do you see Cosmed? That's TW's Watsons! I got all my masks from there

We're near.. Because clothes are everywhere :D

Wu Fen Pu

Anyway Wu Fen Pu is really a shopping haven for girls (and dogs, because they really have nice, cute, CHEAP dog clothings)! You can find Singapore-based blogshop clothes (or potential ones) there at a much lower price but only after scouring the entire site. However I must say that there are still shops out there selling stuff at exorbitant prices, so beware! And do check for defects too. I’m saying this because I bought an ombre maxi skirt  from a makeshift stall without checking because I trusted the old lady that there should be no issues with a brand new piece in an unopened bag 😦 I only discovered the defect when I returned to Singapore -_- I also didn’t think of manufacturing defects at the time of purchase partly because we were in a rush to leave for Raohe.

Road to Raohe Night Market

Entrance

My favourite from Raohe - Sotong!!

What we Singaporeans call Sotong balls!

My sotong snack!

Mango/Strawberry shaved ice! A very popular dessert in Taiwan

Split sausage

Other than filling our mouths with food all the time at Raohe, we also spent some time at their mini arcade. Well, more specifically, on their toy-catching machines! I make it a point to grab some toys whenever I’m abroad (especially in Asian countries) because it’s just too EXPENSIVE to do so in Singapore! I realised I never blogged about my Batam trip that happened last year (because the experience was terrible and I just can’t be bothered to recount. I’ll probably do it one day) but yes, Batam’s toy catchers are mad cheap! The ones in Taiwan too are comparably affordable as well and Bf swept away most of the toys in the machine. Hahaha luck was just with us that day! Even the store assistant was dumbfounded.

Mini arcade.. Or rather, a place full of toy catchers

Bf working hard to catch some toys

And he's got it!!

Day 3

We checked out of Look Hotel and went to take a high-speed train to Kaohsiung! Even though both Taipei and Kaohsiung are in Taiwan, they look like completely different places altogether! Kaohsiung is definitely more laid-back and rural (I mean duh, Taipei is the city after all). When we bought the train passes we were told that we could choose between a super high-speed and a normal high-speed train. I can’t remember if there is any difference in the prices but the normal one definitely took a longer time to reach its destination (I think about 30 minutes more?). Because we were dead beat and wanted a short nap, we took the normal high-speed train! Hahaha. The entire journey took 1.5 hours if I am not wrong! Can you imagine that I take the same amount of time to travel from Bukit Gombak to Pasir Ris? And Singapore is SO SMALL? -_-

When the train bypassed Chia-Yi, I can’t help but to hum the theme song of 意难忘 HAHAHA. If you ever took a peep at your Mom’s TV at around 4.30pm during weekdays 5 years ago, you should know why! Actually 爹 is also relevant if I am not wrong 😛

The HSR station faregate but we used a special exit

the HSR mascot! Cute right!!

What we call EZ link cards. Yes, these are used to tap on the normal train gantry!

Having fun experimenting with the machine! It's about the same as ours

Koi's affiliate!

Hotel font

So upon arrival at Kaohsiung and getting accustomed to the new environment, we tried planning our itinerary! There was nothing much to explore at Kaohsiung so we ended up having dinner at another highly raved seafood place near our hotel (Ambassador Hotel) called Lai Lai Seafood. Contrary to reviews online, Bf and I didn’t find the prices low (probably because we ordered too much HAHA) The service staff were really amiable and welcoming. When one of them knew we were from Singapore (did I mention many thought we were from Hong Kong?), he tried conversing with us in English because our mandarin really couldn’t make it. I was struggling to find the mandarin translation for sting ray, describing it to the best of my ability. Trust me, I even brought in Steve Irwin into the conversation. In the end, he was like, “Oh, ray!” Haha, gosh.

What Lai Lai has (of course that's not all)

Clams

Prawns

What we Singaporeans call Kangkong (cos I forgot what it is called in TW)

Lai Lai's proudest dish because they claimed that the crab has some sort of eggs that other normal crabs don't

Fried fish

After dinner, we took a long walk back to the nearest (but not so near) metro station to get to San Duo Shopping Mall. We stopped by at some gelato store for dessert during our stroll.

:D

At San Duo, we bought movie tickets to watch Street Dance. Bf wanted to watch Ted (yes, it was out in Taiwan like eons before it was screened in Singapore! SO SLOW LOR) but all available timing were SOLD OUT! So we settled for my favourite movie genre – dance! 😀 I am also super glad Kaohsiung had churros (huge ones!) because they seem to be extinct in Singapore -_- Anyway the movie ended pretty late and we missed the last train back to City Council station where our hotel was. So we took the very last train and stop at whatever its terminal was and took a cab back. Hey guess how much their midnight cab surcharge is? It’s 1 FRIGGIN TAIWAN DOLLAR. Not SGD k! It’s NTD!! Walao I want to pack my bags and migrate to Taiwan NOW!!

Churros! Original and chocolate flavours

Day 4

Dream Mall front

Right after breakfast in the hotel we headed to Dream Mall! I think it’s just another mall designed for tourists because there weren’t many locals there. There was nothing special about the place other than their rooftop theme park and Sanrio-themed Ferris wheel.

Statue Man

Snake man!! So cute he even posed for a photo without me asking

Archery at the rooftop theme park

On the Ferris wheel

:3

Bf was finding high and low for a book store in Taiwan and we finally found one there. Why was he so eager to visit a book store there? Singapore don’t have meh? …

You're the Apple of my Eye book

Bf thought that it’d be more memorable and special if the book were to be bought in Taiwan, its origin *rolls eyes* Hahaha okay to be fair I also bought a copy for myself 😛 And from there, Bf and I lugged a huge bag of My Beauty Diary masks back to the hotel, for personal use and NOT for sale HAHA. I SWEAR IT’S DIRT CHEAP THERE. If I ever return to Taiwan (which I probably will! *fingers crossed*) it’s partly because I want to get more masks! (And also because I love the people there! They are really different :))

At night, we took a cab down (lazy tourists who refused to take the train like the locals) to 2 of the many night markets in Kaohsiung – Ruifeng and Liuhe Night Markets! To be honest I found the food there more appetising than those in Taipei! There is this very well-known papaya milk store at Liuhe which is endorsed by the Taiwanese prime minister/president (should be the former, but I don’t think the endorsement is still ongoing hahaha!). Indeed the papaya milk was super yummy! And I also had my first smelly tofu there! Well, it wasn’t as smelly as I thought! But I’m still not a fan of tofu 😦 Oh they also sold super big BBQ prawns! We bought quite a number back to the hotel. Hahaha fat die us.

Fishball soup at Ruifeng

Chicken cutlet at Ruifeng

Pig pancakes!

I don't know what these are but they sure look appetising

Taiwanese really love their dogs! They bring them everywhere they go

Chop chop chicken cutlet

This is a huge disappointment :( Not nice and too short also

Papaya milk everywhere at Liuhe

Smelly tofu!

The giant prawns!!

Even stallholders bring their dogs along to work!

Day 5

Left Kaohsiung and returned to Taipei via super high-speed train this time! The moment we stepped out of the train we could already feel the hastened pace of the city. We took a train back to our first hotel (Look) where we would spend our last few nights. We also left our luggages there for safekeeping so we only brought our necessities and valuables to Kaohsiung. We didn’t have to drag our heavy luggages back and forth! Yay for convenience 🙂

Then we took the train to Xin Bei Tou because that’s where all the hot spring resorts are in Taipei. Seriously, there was a whole stretch of them and we were spoilt for choice! In the end we patronised this resort which just commenced operations not too long ago (according to the receptionist) so it wasn’t on the map yet! We were led to this small hotel-like room and the hot spring tubs (one for hot water and the other for cold water) were at the balcony!

I can't really read the text so if you see this banner somewhere outside, this is the place!

One of the tubs!

It was a torture at first because the water was either freezing cold or boiling hot. But after staying in the water for more than 5 minutes, you wouldn’t feel like getting out of there. But sadly you have to after 15 minutes, to the next tub of water of the opposite extreme temperature. Oh gosh, it was like self-punishment every 15 minutes. And til today, I still do not comprehend the health benefits of hot springs, hahaha. But it was indeed a relaxation time for me on the overall. If I remember correctly it was a 3-hour package.

My green tea cake and earl grey tea?

Yummeh

Then we were treated to cakes and tea! We only know how to enjoy life there. Hahaha!

According to our (flawed) itinerary, our next stop after hot spring resort is Xi Men Ding. That was my die-die-must-go place in Taiwan and I literally pleaded the MCP Bf to add that into the itinerary. Just like Orchard Road in Singapore, it’s like their main shopping district, so how can you miss that when you’re in Taiwan right!? We also wanted to have dinner at Modern Toilet Restaurant and by the time our hot spring session ended, it was already close to 8pm!

Streets of Xi Men Ding

Xi Men Ding adverts

Xi Men Ding lights

Modern Toilet

One more at the staircase landing

As expected, the restaurant had already stopped taking orders the moment we reached there 😦 The restaurant staff must have seen my disappointed look because she told me that I could still enter and snap some pictures. Hahaha. But I didn’t la. So we took pictures of the exterior! But I told Bf that we die-die also must dine at this restaurant before leaving Taiwan! He said, “No, we have no time.”

The sukiyaki place

We are so pathetic that we requested for menu in English

Everything. Just dump everything inside!

Look at those meat! Free friggin flow

Deesert! This is super nice!

Feeling super famished, we looked around Xi Men Ding for alternative dining places! Then we spotted this sukiyaki restaurant not too far from Modern Toilet! I really think it was a blessing in disguise because WOW! Free-flow of everything on the menu, including meat! I tell you, after this sukiyaki experience you wouldn’t even want to step into any sukiyaki restaurant in Singapore because in comparison, they are so stingy with the meat and so expensive some more. And true enough, since my trip to Taiwan, I have NOT stepped into any one here so far. Hahaha. (Unless it’s someone’s treat)

Day 6

Skipped hotel breakfast for this! Bf went out just to get Dou jiang (bean curd), you tiao (fried fritters) and dou nai (soya milk drink)!

The original plan was to go to Jiufen to light sky lanterns but the next departing train to Jiufen was pretty late so we replaced this plan with..? Modern Toilet 😛 But unlike Hello Kitty Sweets, despite the interesting interior design, food at Modern Toilet was really blah. So you go there solely to camwhore, not for the food okay?

The only thing nice we ate there were the nuggets :/

My dish. Chicken cutlet with cheese

Not-so-nice ice cream :(

It was almost the end of our Taiwan trip but we had not bought anything for our families and friends back home! So our last shopping trip was to Tamsui where you can find all Taiwanese titbits there. Because we bought so many stuff, we actually requested for the items to be delivered to our hotel! 2-3 boxes worth of snacks! HARDCORE OR NOT?!

Tamsui station

Tamsui so happening!

Hi there cutie pie! Dogs, dogs everywhere! I love Taiwan <3

I don't know how to call this but it's pretty common in Singapore, sold in those Korean snack stores

Bf's favourite street food: quail eggs!

More sotongs (they call them Hua1 Zhi1, so chim lor) but I still prefer the one at Raohe :D

This

Tried their

Hong Ma's sour plum juice. Really sour!

At Tamsui we also found the Turkish ice-cream shop hidden near the river. You know, the Turkish guy who is out to embarrass you in public by refusing to give you your ice-cream while you attempt to snatch it from him? HAHA I WAS ONE OF HIS VICTIMS. Damn it!

Turkish ice cream described in chinese characters

Buyers usually get their ice creams after their 3rd attempt. Hahaha but he was really entertaining!

Fried milk? How is it even possible? Apparently it is possible in Taiwan! And it really tasted NOT BAD!! It's like fried balls with milk inside. WARMTH IN YOUR MOUTH!

There were many portrait artists at Tamsui and we went to the one offering the lowest rates! He was a very humble guy who wasn't really happy living in Taiwan, and kept saying how envious he was of Singaporeans (that our government treat us well). Had a conversation with him while he drew both of us on his canvas!

The last few kilos gained were from Tamsui because there were really just too many irresistible food around in that little town. I don’t know why this place isn’t featured in the Lonely Planet book but it’s really a place worth visiting!

Day 7

TGIF

Before heading to the airport, we had our final meal in Taiwan at T.G.I.F! The pricing is pretty standard like Starbucks and I blew a little more than a SG$100 there. 😦

Pricey but food was good! We were trying to eat as fast as we could because we were running late for our flight back to Singapore

It’s been 4 months and I still miss Taiwan. I will definitely be back again! 🙂

Hopefully in the near future, I’m also able to get a house there 😛

 

Read also:
Revisiting Taiwan, the Land of Smiles 2013 (PART 1)
Revisiting Taiwan, the Land of Smiles 2013 (PART 2)