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Nimanyu Joshi is a third year Undergraduate pursuing B.Tech in Metallurgical Enggineering and Materials Science.
I hadn’t got a summer internship and with only a month remaining, life was a nightmare. Until I was awakened (first literally, then figuratively) by a morning call from Rahul, congratulating me on getting selected for CCU, Taiwan.
Choosing a University Intern
The things that I sought in an internship: an opportunity to travel, interesting work, a decent stipend and the fact that I wasn’t interested in a non-core profile made university intern a suitable choice. Not many IAFs had opened for dual degree students in the first semester. A few half-assed attempts at apping were also fruitless. Since most universities open in the second semester, and results are announced in the latter half of the semester, there is a lot of uncertainty involved. Since the research topic seemed interesting, the IAF was signed out part fascination and part desperation; and the latter had constantly increased as time passed, until the results were declared.
About the Program
Advanced Institute of Manufacturing with High-tech Innovations (AIM-HI), CCU started their program in 2012. The application opens in the end of January. A filled application form, resume and official transcript are the requirements; recommendation letters are optional. One can select up to three preferences from the list of projects, but the list is outdated (it was unchanged for past 3 years), and the project assigned will presumably be different. The projects will be divided into multiple IAFs according to the department, but there is no need to adhere to the list. The IAF opens only for third year students, but others can apply independently of PT Cell. The results are declared in March. The program is well-planned; and with the program coordinator assisting us at every step, we had a hassle-free experience.
Besides me, 5 IITB students are interning at CCU.
I didn’t choose the Taiwan life, the Taiwan life chose me
Taiwanese climate is a typical tropical torture, hot and humid. Though a few degrees cooler than Mumbai, the damp air nullifies any increment in comfort levels. Fortunately, all cars, buses, trains, and almost all buildings, are air-conditioned. The weather switches frequently between sunny and cloudy, with the occasional drizzle. We have been provided accommodation in the undergraduate dormitory. The rooms are spacious and well furnished with all amenities including a laundry room, even snack and vending machines.
CCU campus is the most beautiful one I have ever seen. At the very entrance is the Tranquility lake, much smaller than the Powai lake, but just as beautiful. Buildings of varying architectural styles can be found. At the center it the administrative building, which has its design inspired by Chinese step-pyramids. Opposite to it is the eight-storey library building, which, unlike IITB, is not limited to scientific literature. Tennis courts (synthetic and clay), Olympic-size swimming pools (outdoor and indoor), a bowling alley, rock-climbing wall, countless basketball courts; the sports facilities here are top-notch, and open for use by the interns. Similar to IITB, the commute from dorm to the lab takes about 15 min on foot, complete with a tiring uphill climb for the insti experience away from insti.
Students have neither the means, nor the permission to cook inside the dorm. There are a number of eateries inside and outside the campus, serving an endless variety of food items. Non-vegetarians shouldn’t face any difficulty. Vegetarians will have much fewer choices, and things might get repetitive. There are numerous convenience stores in and around the campus, and serve a large range of ready-to-eat items. Chopsticks are the commonly used eating utensil, and most places also provide spoons for rice and soup. Using hands is acceptable only for fast-food items.
Taiwanese people have a friendly and hospitable attitude. They are very quiet and soft spoken, particularly in public transit. Many of them go way out of their way to ensure we go the right way. A favorite example is of the police officer who, at 2 AM, called a taxi and waited with us for more than 20 minutes, until it picked us up. Majority of the people identify as Taiwanese, and usually dislike being called Chinese. They prefer to use Taiwanese brands, so HTC phones and ASUS laptops are very common.
Almost everyone in Taiwan owns a two wheeler; most roads have dedicated two wheeler lanes. They are the preferred vehicle for short distance travel. Unfortunately, riding one requires an international driving permit. Tissues are an indispensable household item, and are used for most cleaning and hygiene purposes. It is easier to find tissue paper than it is to find water. Similar is true for internet connectivity. Most places, and sometimes buses, have free WiFi. High-speed mobile data is available even in the remotest of places.
I work in the Nano-optomechatronic Materials and Devices Lab. The lab comprises 8 graduate students studying under Prof. Ting Chu Chi. The lab timing is from 10 AM to 7 PM, with the lunch break from 12 noon to 3PM. These timings are not stringent, and there is no one to enforce them. I try my best to adhere to them nevertheless.
The lab is currently studying graphene based photodetectors. Graphene synthesis is usually performed by the partner lab. We then transfer it onto the substrate of choice. We perform a number of techniques to assess its quality, followed by deposition of the semiconductor. We are trying to develop devices that are faster and more sensitive. Most of the steps involve handling of toxic chemicals and require the use of gloves, glasses and respirators. The work-load is low, and some of the steps require 20 min, giving us some extra free time.
My lab-mates are what distinguished my Taiwan experience from that of the other interns here. Since the very moment I arrived to the lab, they have ensured that I had the best time. Taking me to new restaurants every day, translating menus for me, teaching me Chinese words, driving me to visit nearby cities, helping me plan my weekend trips; the list of favors they have done me is endless. One of them even lent me his bicycle for the internship period. They are a really entertaining bunch, and put their limited English vocabulary to the most hilarious use. Our professor is also very enthusiastic and friendly.
The language barrier is strong in this one
The official language in Taiwan is Mandarin, but majority of the population speaks the Taiwanese dialect. Since almost all communication occurs in Chinese, not knowing the language was a challenge. I slept through an entire screening of The Force Awakens, because it turned out to be the Chinese dub instead of the sub (hence the heading).
Most students in CCU have a very basic knowledge of English, but people with whom you can actually converse with are extremely rare. The biggest difficulty faced is of pronunciation: even if they know the right word, they are unable to say it correctly. Conversely, my pronunciation of English words is unfamiliar to them, and spelling out the word is the only option. A bizarre example is of the confusion between “m” and “n”, on countless instances I have been asked my “mane”. Chinese names are usually 3 characters long (one character is one syllable). So when your whole name is 5 syllable long, people are going to have a hard time. To make it easier (less difficult) for them, I tell people to call me Joshi, and since then I have been called Yoshi, Josee, Josh, and even Juicy.
The second problem is the complex English grammar. Chinese speakers find it difficult to remember all the different verb forms, and the conversations can get tense (pun intended). So if your lab-mates tell you “You’re boring”, they actually mean “Are you getting bored?” (I hope so).
Chinese is a tonal language, so what might be homophones to us are distinct sounds to the Chinese ear. Although not essential, learning some frequently encountered words like numbers, greetings, name of food items can be helpful. Xiè Xiè (Thank you), in particular, is used generously all over Taiwan.
Taiwan’s small size makes it ideal for short weekend trips. Buses run between CCU and most major cities. Otherwise, one can go to Minxiong or Chiyai for more options. The No public transport operates beyond 1AM, and taxi is the only choice, which can be expensive unless travelling in group. Taipei and Kaoshuing have an extensive metro system for intra-city travel. For other places, bus is the only public transport available. Even though we couldn’t cover every tourist attraction, we tried to visit all the major ones.
Taipei 101 is undoubtedly the biggest one. More awe-inspiring than its height is its meticulous design. Visitors have access to floor 88 through 91. The night-time view of the city from the 89th floor is simply incredible. One can climb up the Elephant mountain to get a breath-taking view of the skyscraper and the city. The Sun-Moon lake is another must-visit. Riding a bike around its mesmerizing blue waters is a wonderful experience. Taroko national park, in the Hualien county, is another place of immense natural beauty. The limestone has been carved into deep ravines by the meandering Liwu river. Chi Shing Tan beach has a beautiful pebble beach, and the waves crashing into the shore produce a sound that is almost musical. National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium at Kenting has a diversity of aquatic animals from all over the world, including porpoise, penguins, puffins and seals. Gigantic tanks with underwater tunnels provide a stunning view of the marine life. Kenting also has the most picturesque beaches with clear waters. Kenting is a popular spot for scuba diving, and it has been one of the best experiences of my entire Taiwan trip.
Another section on food, for it is just as important a reason to travel Taiwan as sightseeing. Maybe not that much for vegetarians. I rarely ate meat in India; in Taiwan, I have never had a vegetarian meal. Seafood is very significant part of their diets; one of the few places to find shrimp and lobster toppings at Dominos. The exotic meats available here are not limited to seafood. Over the last two months, I have tried chicken, pork, beef, turkey, duck, squid, octopus, shrimp, lobsters, scallops, ostrich, and an endless variety of fishes I have no idea about. People here love to drink tea, and there is an endless variety available. Bubble milk tea (iced-tea topped with tapioca balls, or some other jellies) is a very popular Taiwanese drink, and my personal favorite. Night markets are the best places to try all kinds of snacks, drinks, desserts. The (in)famous stinky tofu is something I will probably never try again.