Tuesday, December 29, 2009

*Christmas Cheer*

(Post by Alisha)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our friends and family! We missed all of you at this time of year, but we loved and will cherish the unique experience of the beautiful Christmas weekend we spent together here in Taiwan.

I was a little nervous that Christmas was going to be a holiday letdown akin to the turkeyless Thanksgiving we suffered through, but I was very happy with the way our festivities turned out.

The school allowed the foreign teachers to take off Friday (without pay, however), but we were happy at least to be granted a three-day weekend. Bacon and I spent a delicious morning enjoying a late brunch filled with some goodies from the Christmas package his parents sent, sipping eggnog, and watching a few classic holiday films. Christmas night we went to a hip restaurant in downtown called People Restaurant. The Chinese fusion cuisine was amazing and the atmosphere had a very sleek post-industrial feel with romantic touches like a wall dotted with fresh roses- it was well worth the slightly pricey menu. After dinner, we took a leisurely walk through the city among all the twinkling Christmas lights and decorations.

The next day we headed off mid-afternoon for our weekend in Beitou, an area 20 minutes north of Taipei filled with natural sulfurous hot springs. Because of the Japanese occupation, many of the older buildings, temples, and resorts in Beitou are built in beautiful Japanese tradition. We were able to view the Geothermal Scenic Area more commonly known as Hell Valley, so named because of its boiling springs shrouded in pillars of steam. Shortly after dipping our feet in the steamy public hot springs river, we headed up the mountain to check into our springs resort, Whispering Pine Inn.

The resort pipes in the hot springs straight from the natural sources in Beitou, and in addition to a large stone tub for guests of the resort, we also had our own private stone pool in our room. We checked in and soon trekked further up the winding path until we found a restaurant our guide book recommended, Shann Garden. It was tucked away high up in the mountain with a beautiful view of the city below, and it was one of the best eating experiences we've had so far in Taiwan. It was an upscale buffet that featured Mongolian-style BBQ, where you get to pick your own thinly sliced meats and veggies and have them cooked on a huge stone slate in front of you. Bacon and I had beef, pineapple, green tomato, onion, peppers, and fiery red chilis all cooked in sesame oil and soy. We also enjoyed dumplings, stir-fried veggies, salad, noodles, shrimp, fresh fruit, mango frozen yogurt, and, of course, all you can drink teas and soda. After dinner, we spent the rest of the night soaking away the winter chill (yes, it was a very frosty 55 degrees) in the hot springs and drinking champagne. It was a wonderful weekend getaway.

Now we're looking forward to another short week with Friday off for New Years. This will be the last post in 2009- ready to see what will unfold in 2010!
Monday, December 28, 2009

Beitou Hot Springs Video

Monday, December 14, 2009

Staring Contest: You and Me

(Post by Alisha)
Last Thursday night, a few of the Chinese teachers we work with took us out to a Taiwanese restaurant for dinner. It's such a treat going out with people that speak the language, especially in Sansia as translated menus or even ones that include pictures are scarce. We often reluctantly pass by restaurants that look fun or smell tempting because we wouldn't know how or what to order.

The restaurant they took us to was very darkly lit and completely decorated in black and red. The menu was split into two categories: big hot pot or teppanyaki with small hot pot. We all chose the second option- I got a spicy pepper chicken teppanyaki and Bacon got a sesame Asian barbecue chicken teppanyaki.

In case you forgot, Hot Pot is an extremely popular Taiwanese dish where several items- oysters, shrimp, meat, rice noodles, mushrooms, fish paste, and tofu- are boiled together in a pot with broth. We have yet to discover the reason for its popularity, but a small pot is okay to pick at the few tasty items- love the oysters. (Game: How many items can you identify from the hot pot in the picture?) Like a lot of Taiwanese restaurants, it was b.y.o.b so we also got to bring in our own drinks, cheap and fun. Speaking of cheap, our whole meal only cost 120 NT, or under $4 U.S.

The food was surprisingly very delicious, and we had a blast hanging out with some of the Chinese teachers sharing cultural observations back and forth. One example of this that came up during the course of eating is the fact that in Taiwan, they usually keep the head, feet, eyes, etc. on their food, and obviously in America, that is not the norm. It's a little unappetizing to see a whole shrimp looking up at you from your pot of food - beady eyes and all, but of course Bacon couldn't resist a staring contest with it.

Sweet somethings

(Post by Alisha)

Here's just a quick picture of a beautiful flower Bacon bought me this weekend at a Farmer's Market on Old Street. Every night it's petals close tightly and the next morning they open widely to reveal this vibrant purple blossom.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Directions to the MRT from Sanxia

(Post by Bacon)
Many people find directions confusing back home. For many it's a big hassle trying to get around without a GPS. Well those people would go crazy here in Taiwan. The roads constantly change names for no apparent reason, they never run in a straight line, street signs are a luxury to find and even then they'll only have English on them 50% of the time. Add that to the fact that there are no real driving laws and you'll have a very frustrating/scary time trying to get around.
I'm posting my directions to the Far Eastern Hospital MRT stop via scooter to show everyone back home how crazy the roads are here, and this post should really help the foreigners who already live in Sanxia/Shansia/Sansia/SOONSIAA (or whatever way you insist on spelling it). It's only a 20 minute scooter ride, but it's crazy. Click the read more link below to get the directions.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


(Post By Bacon)
One bad thing about living in a warm climate has to be the giant bugs. Many of the insects here are large enough to drive cars. I have been lucky enough so far to not find any large creatures in the apartment, but some of the other teachers have not been so lucky. A few of our friends have found cockroaches larger than a deck of playing cards in their apartments. It gets talked about a lot and I knew it was just a matter of time before I would have to battle one of these beasts.

Well my day came on Friday at school. One of the Chinese teachers came into my classroom in the middle of one of my lessons and said she needed my help. I left my classroom and went to her classroom to discover the largest spider I've ever seen. This thing was about as big as my hand, had thick brown legs, and could probably beat me in hand to hand combat. I didn't have a camera with me so I couldn't take a picture, but thanks to a quick google search I was able to find it. (it's actually a screen shot from this youtube video).

After a futile attempt to reason with it I decided it was time to fight. I took off my sandal and attempted to smash it, but this thing was way too fast for my ogre-like reflexes. I took several more swipes at it and missed every time. The spider ended up running away (it must have been a French spider) under a desk and we couldn't find it for a good 5 minutes. During this whole ordeal the students started flipping out and we had to move all of them to the opposite side of the room. We eventually found it under the teacher's desk (probably trying to learn English so we could reconcile our differences) and I was able to slow it down with some whiteboard cleaner. After using about half the bottle of cleaner it still wouldn't die so I was forced to river dance on its face. Once the spider was dead the whole class cheered and I went back to my class to finish teaching Language Arts.
This event has scarred me for life.
Monday, November 16, 2009

Yehliu Geological Rock Park Video

Friday, November 6, 2009

Peace Memorial Park, National Palace Museum, and Taiwan Beer Bar Montage

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shilin Night Market Video

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Eating Taiwan

(Post by Alisha)

Pig's blood soup (pictured above), tofu squares, tubes of fish paste,
oyster egg pancakes: ah, just some of the delightful delicacies we've experienced, in sight, smell, or taste, since we've been here. Now I know that most of you are wearing a a genuinely perplexed look right now (hey, you mean authentic Chinese food doesn't come from a Li Yang's-esque establishment with General Tsao's chicken combos and neat little sweet-and-sour packets?) but a lot of Taiwanese cuisine we've tried is generally unidentifiable at best, and cooked in sweet, briney oils at worst. Even the deserts fail to strike any chord of familiarity (think dense cubes of gelatinous goo). This isn't to say we haven't found several foods that we can't get enough of- namely, pork and cabbage dumplings, beef noodle soup, taro balls, steamed layer cake, shaved ice, fresh fruit teas, fried squid, and rice, rice, rice with just about any vegetable, egg, or brothy topping- but the craving for American food is slowly over-taking the desire to expand our palate as the days go by. While we may be getting slightly less adventurous on our weekend dining excursions, we do, however, eat Taiwanese food every day for lunch. At school, "Auntie" prepares a huge pot of white rice and about three to four trays of, for lack of a better word, toppings- no pre-packaged Sysco school lunches here. All the teachers take a small bowl and fill it about 2/3 of the way up with rice, saving a bit of room at the top to pile on whatever new dish Auntie has concocted that day. Here is a sample schedule of what any given week is like for food:

M- Fish-flavored wheat gluten, spongey tofu, cabbage, mixed vegetables
T- Pork and onion stew (one of my favorites) and a watery egg and eel soup
W- Brown tofu squares, egg and tomato mix, oily Chinese eggplant and a whole fish
T- Curry day- horray! Big chunks of carrots and potatoes in a spicy/sweet curry sauce
F- Green vegetables, sweet garlic sausages (another favorite) and cabbage
Bonus: One great thing about Auntie's lunches is her delicious, homemade soy sauce that we always drizzle on top of whatever we get- and some days, it's just rice and soy.
Taiwanese fun food fact: One of the few foods that Andrew Zimmerman- the bizarre foods guy for the Travel Channel who eats bugs and intestines like they're popcorn- cannot stomach is a particular Taiwanese fruit called Durian. It's a large, melon-shaped fruit with spikes on it similar to a pineapple. Cut it open to reveal a slightly stringy, squishy interior that honestly tastes and smells like a rancid arm-pit. Yes, I tried it- I'm glad I did for the bragging rights, but it is a truly hideous fruit.

So where is all this going? Well, up until a few weeks ago, our favorite restaurant to savor some flavors from back home was a place called "The Diner" that has- you guessed it, diner food. The menu features items like banana pancakes, Denver omelettes made with organic eggs, and breakfast burritos- all complete rarities for Taiwan. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of their food out-does most American diners. The main caveat we had was the travel time it took to get there- it's in the heart of downtown Taipei, and it took us close to an 1 1/2 trip, basically making any quick brunch we wanted to have into an all-day event.
But no longer! Sansia now has its very own The Diner rip-off, literally seven minutes away from
us. It's called "The Door," and in true Taiwanese fashion, it's pretty much a blatant copy-cat establishment- which of course is fine with us, considering our love of original! (There seems to be very few qualms here with copyright issues, and we've seen several hilarious rip-offs, including, but not limited to: Abercrombie and Fith, R.Q. Polo (instead of Ralph Lauren Polo) and Blueberry (Burberry, anyone?) The decor is very cozy and cool, with hard-wood floors, black and white photos, lime green ceilings, and brick walls. Every menu item we've tried so far has been a great success, and we absolutely love having this place right around the corner. It's open late and has all-day brunch, but the dinner items are excellent as well. Although I'm sure our days of adventurous Taiwanese eating are far from over, it's comforting knowing that a meal that reminds us of home is just a walk away.
Sunday, October 18, 2009

Livin, Lovin Taipei

(Post by Alisha)
This past weekend, though nothing particularly outstanding happened, was one of those great weekends where we really felt happy here in Taipei. Saturday we met up with some friends at an outdoor flea market, which is rare for image-conscious, trendy Taipei. It was crowded- but what event, store, or sidewalk in Taipei isn't?- and while it might have been overwhelming for the average claustrophobic individual, it was otherwise a really fun afternoon spent wandering through stalls of friends and families hawking their old items. I found a cool postcard from the 70's showing an old map Taiwan that I'm probably going to reframe at some point. Afterwards, Bacon and I stopped for a few beers at Ireland Potato to chill and enjoy the absolutely perfect 75 and sunny weather that we've been loving these past few weeks. October and November are probably the most beautiful and temperately ideal months in Taiwan.
On a friend's suggestion, next we hopped on the MRT and made our way over to Shida Night Market, one famous market we had yet to visit. Shida is a student area and has a really funky, cool vibe. The night market is definitely a favorite place to hang out with friends on the weekends, try lots of different foods (goose head, anyone?), and shop at a place that's basically an inexpensive open-air mall. The night market slightly resembles a maze, with many forking streets and alleys that veer off in all different directions. Robert actually came up with a system (why wouldn't he?) of going left, right, and then straight at each intersected point so we wouldn't get stuck holding our breath and walking past the same stinky tofu vendor four times like we did at our first night market. We eventually wound up at an unassuming, but extremely popular little dumpling cart. In fact, we actually had to take a number and wait about 1/2 hour to get our piping hot, fresh box of dumplings. It was totally worth the wait- for 72NT (less than $2 U.S.) we got a box of 12, and they were gooey, fresh, and loaded with flavor. For another dollar, we each got a fresh-squeezed raspberry lime juice drink and took our treats over to the adjacent park to sit down and enjoy.
Sunday we had brunch with another couple at our school at an awesome little diner that just opened up in our area. It has a little wooden outdoor deck and fresh-squeezed orange juice comes with each meal. Later in the day we scooted up to the mountains for a break from the city and some fresh air. So far, fall has been superb- the only thing that would make it complete would be football :)
Hope you're all still enjoying reading about our adventures here in Taiwan as much as we are living them! We miss you all~

Bacon Gets a Scooter

(Post by Bacon)
Yeah that's right post by Bacon. I can do more than just edit and upload videos. I can poorly construct a written story.
As you can tell by the title of this post, I got a scooter. When we first arrived in Taiwan and I saw traffic I said there was no way I would ever ride a scooter. Well, after a few months here I got used to the horrible driving and thought I would give it a try. What it really came down to was convenience. Alisha and I don't mind using the MRT system, but we hate waiting for the bus. We also don't mind going for little walks to get food or go shopping, but we hated walking to go do a chore like grocery shopping.
(I like to drive around kicking small Taiwanese people.)
So after a few weeks of debating, we decided that it would be a good idea to get one. Buying the scooter wasn't difficult at all thanks to our Chinese tutor Twinsen. He drove me to a place to test out a few models and did all the translating with the sales lady. After a couple of hours I had a scooter and was driving home in Taipei traffic.
So far we've had the scooter for a week and it's been great. We love having the freedom to go wherever we want whenever we want. I even found an easy route to the Far Eastern Hospital MRT stop that should really cut down on our travel time. I already feel accustomed to the horrible driving habits of the people here and always do my best to be a defensive driver. The only thing I'm missing is a lame "Eat My Dust" shirt. Wish us luck!
Saturday, October 10, 2009

Swimming with the fishies

(Post by Alisha)
As I mentioned in the Penghu post, a highlight of our trip was going snorkeling. We showed up bright and early at the snorkel place and geared up (just barely squeezing into their largest wetsuit sizes) with a group of about 8 other snorkelers and three instructors. When we arrived at the part of the ocean where we'd be snorkeling, one of the instructors began to give a ten minute speech- all in Chinese of course. The one instructor who spoke a little English turned to us and said- "safety speech." He then proceeded to give us the one-minute basic version- basically just "not good go out too far." I mean, who needs a safety lesson when they're about to swim about in deep ocean waters surrounded by odd fish?

As soon as we put on our masks and looked down, it was like being in the Little Mermaid movie. Neon-colored rainbow fish darted inches from my face, long, pointed nose skimmer fish zipped on the surfaces of the water, and mini starfish crawled about. Brightly colored sea anemones lined the bottom of the seabed along with coral and weird eel-looking fish. One of the instructors actually caught a puffer fish and we all got a chance to hold him with his spikes poking out. They also gave us mushy bread to feed the sea creatures, and electric blue fish and some creepy gray ones literally swarmed us to feast on the snacks. After snorkeling for a while, our whole group took turns doing jumps, dives, and flips off one of the out-cropping rocks into the water.

Some of the instructors even asked Bacon to help them hoist the girls way above their heads and launch them off flailing into the water- that's when I knew that all pretenses of safety protocol were mere formalities haha. By the end of the day, we all agreed that it was one of the coolest experiences of our trip. Next time I'd like to get my scuba diving certification and give that a try- maybe on a future trip.
Sunday, October 4, 2009

Video from our "Swimming Spot"

A couple posts ago Alisha describes a "Beautiful Oasis". Here is a quick video of the swimming hole described in that post.
Friday, September 25, 2009

Penghu Love

(Post by Alisha)
Visiting Penghu Island was without a doubt the favorite part of our vacation. We island-hopped, snorkeled in tropical zones, swam in blue waters, scootered through beautiful landscapes, and visited one of the oldest temples in Taiwan. Staying at the awesome Penghu Whale Homestay was part of the reason we got to experience as much as we did. Each morning they made us a freshly prepared Taiwanese breakfast- my favorite was a seafood rice porridge (complete with squid tentacles) and a giant pork and veggie puff. And for $15 per person a night for a place a few minutes away from the beach, you can't really beat it. The first night we arrived, one of the Homestay staff members took us out to see a couple of century old houses, sample wild cacti blossoms, and check out the gorgeous views from some basalt cliffs. The cactus she carefully cut off for us to try was bright pink in color and tasted sweet with a sour grapefruit-like after taste.

On day two we took a ferry on a multi-island tour, which probably ended up being my favorite day. I was overwhelmed by the peaceful atmosphere and break-taking views; the simple beauty of everything we saw had a very euphoric affect on me and I felt as if I could have spent all day just observing and wandering around this tiny, stunning island of Taiwan. It was one of those times that yanked me out of the reality of my daily life and shook me with the realization- "You're in Taiwan!" We spent an hour and a half touring the first island and taking in sights like Twin Hearts Stone Weir, pictured above, and then took a half-hour ferry trip to the next island, where we had a secluded beach all to ourselves. On the third day we went snorkeling, another highlight of our Penghu experience, but I'll save that for another post.
(Click image to enlarge)
The nightlife and going out to eat was also a great part of Penghu. One night we had dinner at a delicious, laid-back restaurant called RipCurl that's owned by an Australian surfer and went out afterwards for some of the island's specialty purple cactus drinks at a fun bar and restaurant called Sunny Colony. The last night of our trip, one of the homestay workers invited us out for "barbecue" with her and her friends. In America, usually when you hear barbecue you think of a casual burgers and hotdogs event, so we weren't really sure what to expect since those aren't typical Taiwan menu items. We ended up scootering to a cool outdoor patio filled with wooden picnic tables that were all set up with simple grills in the middle. You go up and pick your seafood, meat, and veggies, grab a few beers, and you're set. We tried some fantastic salty oysters and had a really fun time hanging out with some of the Penghu locals. We considered it a great end to an even better vacation. We'll definitely be going back at some point before we leave Taiwan.
Thursday, September 24, 2009

A beautiful oasis

(Post by Alisha)
This excursion still lingers on my mind as a day of pure enjoyment. There is nothing quite like taking a 15 minute cab out of the smoggy city only to discover yourself wonderfully enclosed in a paradise of green leafy vegetation and teal-green rivers. Jenny, Bacon and I hiked for a few humid hours, drinking in the sights of waterfalls and tropical canopies along the way, until we decided we were ready for the second half of our trip. Our plan was to get roasting hot with a nice-paced hike and then catch a cab or bus to a place further down that had some pretty good swimming spots. However, when we emerged from our hiking trails back out onto the main road, we were dismayed to discover that taxis would take us to our hiking spot, but would not be waiting around for a return journey. Luckily, I am used to plans going awry and just going with the flow, so while level-headed Bacon and Jenny were starting to get flustered, I suggested we just keep walking along the road to see what we might happen upon. After about 15-20 minutes of trudging along in the unrelenting sun (and still about 45 minutes from the swimming place we had planned on going to), we all heard the faint sounds of splashing and rushing water. Without a second thought, we turned off the road and followed a little dirt path around the corner, stumbling right into our very own desert's oasis. In the midst of a circlet of fern-like trees blowing in the wind there was a fairly large, crystal-clear pool of water with a small cliff towering on one side and a mini-waterfall pouring into it from the back end. A few Taiwanese people sat on the rocky banks and motioned us down. We had to cross about 10 feet of thigh-high rapids to make it to the spot ideal for swimming. For the rest of the afternoon, we swam around and did some very fun, probably semi-dangerous cliff-jumping under the tutelage of a Taiwanese man who went before us to "prove" it was safe. When the sun dipped behind the clouds we finally decided to drag ourselves away and managed, by a stroke of luck, to find a cab ride home. It was definitely one of the highlights of our time spent in Taipei.

(Click image to enlarge)
Sunday, September 20, 2009

228 Peace Memorial Park

(Post by Alisha)
So for the first few days that Jenny was in Taiwan we decide to "do" Taipei. A couple of days were devoted to the standard musts, such as gazing up at Taipei 101 and ordering plates of dumplings at Din Tai Fung, but we did enjoy finding several new places to traipse around as well. The 228 Peace Park was one of our favorites for a quiet stroll through pretty landscaping, a sobering reflection on a period in history, and a look at some impressive architecture. The 2-28 Incident was an utter massacre by the KMT of peaceful demonstrators and a violent suppression of the anti-government uprising in Taiwan in 1947. The park is a great and beautiful memorial; I just wish that some of the plaques and statues would have been written in English.

Another cool place Jenny and I found on one of our girls shopping day was a restaurant called Slack Season Tan Tsi Noodles. The chefs cook large pots of long, sinuous noodles over charcoal-fired pots right near the entrance. For 50NT ($1.50 U.S.) we each got a steaming bowl of beef Tan Tsi noodles with a pink shrimp on top. After our lunch, we stopped at a funky little frozen yogurt shop right next door and split a tasty bowl of raspberry delight topped with fresh strawberries. Although on a small scale, the combination of the two eating experiences is a classic example of the harmonious nature between traditional Taiwanese culture and the contemporary economic trends. Another example of this would be the fact that there is excellent modern health care here as well as authentic Chinese herbal medicine practices. Rather than creating a culture clash, as one may expect, the mix of new and old works side by side in a remarkably balanced fashion.
(click to enlarge)

We're back!

In true Alisha fashion, I've been dealing with the incredible amount of information we have about our vacation by simply trying to avoid it for a bit :) However, Bacon has started to compensate for this by posting a few awesome videos that definitely capture the beauty and spirit of some of the places we visited. Now I will try to overcome my fear of organization by trying to sort through some of our experiences to give you a few hodge-podge peeks at what our trip was like. 高兴回来! Happy to return...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Taroko Gorge Video

Monday, September 7, 2009

Penghu Island Video

We had an awesome time at Penghu and the surrounding islands. Here is a video montage (Artist: Matt & Kim, Song: Daylight).

It wouldn't have been half as much fun if we didn't stay at the Penghu Whale Homestay. They literally helped us with everything: snorkeling, scooters, ferry rides, food, airport pick-up and drop-off. If you're a Taiwan visitor and reading our website then check out their website HERE.
Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vacation Itinerary

As we'll soon be taking a glorious vacation all around Taiwan with my friend Jenny from home and won't be able to post for a while, I thought everyone would at least like to know a rough guideline of what we'll be doing and where we'll be going. Full updates, pictures, and excellent video footage are promised upon return!

Our (tentative) Itinerary:

Saturday-Wednesday: Taipei
*Of course, the main sights: 101 building, temples, and all the markets and old streets.
*Mountain tea house in Maokong overlooking the city at night
*Lots of restaurants and food, including a famous beef noodle house we have yet to try, and Yongkang Street- a long street featuring traditional Taiwanese food.
*River-tracing the JiaJiuLiao Stream to the natural rock-slide and swimming holes
*Taiwan Brewery Tour and Beer Bar.
*Shopping all over the city

Thursday p.m.-Monday a.m.: Makung/Penghu Island and the North Sea Islands
*We've booked a round-trip flight (45 minutes each way) to this beautiful archipelago off the coast of Taiwan. White-sand beaches, snorkeling, sea kayaking, whale watching, and visiting historic sites and temples are just a few of the things on the schedule for this trip. This area is also known for its impressive basalt structures that create beautiful statuesque scenery all over the islands. Penghu island is the main hub, and from there we'll take ferries and boat tours to the surrounding North Sea Islands.

Monday & Tuesday: Taipei again
*National Palace Museum, the famous building that (arguably) houses the largest collection of high-quality Chinese artifacts in the world.
*228 Peace Park- beautiful park and memorial to the 1947 anti-government uprising, called the 228 massacre, that ended in thousands of deaths and marked the start of the White Terror Period in Taiwan.
*Spicy Hot Pot dinner- Highly popular in Taiwan- cook your own meat and vegetables in a pot of spicy soup broth

Wednesday-Friday: Hualien, located on the mountainous east coast of Taiwan
*Since the islands trip will be our pampered, beach-laying vacation, we'll be camping and roughing it out a bit when we go to Hualien. We can rent a 4-person tent and necessary supplies for around 800NT (U.S. 25).
*The main attraction here is Taraoko Gorge National Park, one of the wonders of Asia. There are numerous hiking trails, sheer cliffs, the gorge that it is named after, dark caves and tunnels, waterfall walls, and breath-taking views.
*We'll try some of the highly recommended white-water rafting on a stretch of the river that leads to the ocean

*Goodbye dinner at our favorite restaurant and going out to the bars or clubs!

---These two weeks are going to fly by. Can't wait, wish us luck!
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Picture This

(Post by Alisha)
Taipei is a great city- you will be walking in a maze of crumpling buildings and crowded sidewalks breathing in air from the incessant scooter traffic when suddenly you turn the corner to find a beautiful, spacious park. Here's a few pictures from Daan Park; it's filled with palm trees, plants, cobbled paths, and best of all, this pretty vined archway we found.
Our own city in Taipei County is slightly more humble, but has plenty to boast about as well. Because the MRT will soon be reaching Sanxia, probably around when we will be leaving, go figure, city development and architectural improvements are really on the up-swing. There's some new noodle restaurants and tea shops and a Hot Pot Restaurant with mini sharks swimming in a tank on display. We also recently got a Carrefour that's a short 15 minute walk from our place- it's slightly akin to a Walmart, and it's nice because it has some items that have been really hard to find or that we've had to travel far into the city for. Here are some pictures by a new stretch of classy apartments on our walk to the Carrefour. Below is a shot of Robert standing by these giant bamboo structures, homage to the beautiful bamboo that grows all over Taiwan, and a mosaic of the Zushi Temple downtown.
Lastly I have a picture of one of the giant snails that inhabit what I have dubbed as "cockroach alley." It's located at the bus stop we always get off on when coming back from Taipei, and it's the perfect environment for all sorts of creepy crawlies. Large shady trees, little pools, and fountains of water mean tons of cockroaches that never fail to make me leap in the air and ogre-sized snails that can get as big as your fist. We named this one Seymour.
Monday, August 3, 2009

Taiwan Images: Picture Collage

(Click on image to make larger)
Sunday, August 2, 2009

Graduation Preparation

(Post by Alisha)
Since Uncle Sam's is a kindergarten school, the entire months of July and August are spent rehearsing for an elaborate graduation ceremony for the K6 students that will be moving on from the school and attending their Chinese elementary school full-time. Many of the students will still come back for night classes, so it's mostly a lot of hype and show for the parents. (It's really fun to be a Taiwanese student... school year-round from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and some of them even get to go home to private tutoring. Joy. Oh, and let's not forget that you need to be able to play an instrument, so after you come home and do your homework you can practice until 11 at night.) Anyway, to commemorate this not-so-momentous event, all of the foreign teachers at our school were required to write a script for our homeroom classes (with a dance sequence) based on a well-known kid's movie. Each child needed several speaking roles and we had to find music, sound effects, and designate staging and lighting. Did I mention that my homeroom class is composed of ESL 3 and 4 year olds? This has been no easy task by any means, and we are all feeling the stress of trying to get kids to memorize lines they can barely read and learn actions, songs, and dancing on top of it.

Teacher Bacon is doing Willy Wonka with his class, the K4 Gorillas, and I am doing Finding Nemo with my K2 Dolphins. The end result will probably end up being cute and funny, but the pressure and expectations in the mean time are becoming a bit overwhelming. It's all over on August 22nd though, and after that my friend Jenny from the States is coming to visit. Bacon and I finally got our vacation time approved from the owner of the school, and we'll be taking two weeks off to tour the whole island of Taiwan. We plan on staying in Taipei for a few days and then venturing down South and maybe even to a small island off of the coast! The image of us snorkeling and laying on white-sand beaches is what is going to get us through these next few weeks...

*Below is a drawing by one of my students of Teacher Bacon and I. The orange spot above us is a "fire so hot" that is coming to get us. I think it's a pretty accurate representation of us. Notice how Bacon is wearing a dress-like outfit and has only four hairs. My arms are rather disproportionate, but given the age of the artist, 4, I think I can let that slide :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Swimming in the Danbau River

(Post by Alisha)
I've been really wanting to do some swimming in the rivers of Taiwan, so this weekend we ventured out to Manyueyuan again. It's near the same area we went hiking a while back, but in a different location well before the trails and mountains begin. We got dropped off by our crazy cab driver (he took corners he couldn't see around on winding mountain roads) and walked along the roadside until we spotted the place to swim. (Side note: I love just walking down a busy street and seeing strange fruit growing in clusters and banana trees towering above. I've said it before, but Taiwan's lush and varied natural scenery continues to amaze me- especially in comparison to the urban industrialism that surrounds it). We walked down some rickety stairs built into the hillside and down a dirt trail leading towards the river. A vendor selling sweet pork sausages and tangy ice cream directed us on our way- after, of course, grilling us up some of his tasty food :) A few beers and we were set for a little Taiwan river picnic.
We snaked through a very narrow grassy pathway and through a small tunnel before arriving at the river. This spot seems to me to be a perfect example of local Taiwanese culture: multitudes of families and friends gathered on the stony banks of the green and blue river under brightly colored umbrellas "grilling out." This basically amounts to making a little fire between a few large rocks, setting a small metal grate on top of them, and cooking up an assortment of vegetables and meats. Children were splashing in the river armed with many floating devices and catching little fish and minnows with nets while the adults enjoyed some pi jui (beer). The first picture is my favorite; it's such a beautiful representation of a classic Taiwanese scene.
We ate some food here and then carefully picked our way across the rocks down the banks to where the river turned into mini-rapids. There was an awesome little swimming hole next to a rocky cliff and waterfall- complete with a very unsafe rope swing. We wanted to cross the river to get to this side, but the current was very strong even in the parts of the river where the water only reached below our waist. we observed that many people started crossing until they found a rock jutting out in the water they could hold onto while the water rushed and pulled around them. That's exactly what we did, and it felt unbelievably cool, like being bombarded with pressure jets from a hot tub while trying not to succumb to the beckoning current. The water was yanking at us as we struggled to resist being sucked down the rocky stream (although this ended up happening to me later haha).
I eventually worked my way to the other side, slowly going from underwater rock to underwater rock, and finally convinced Bacon to attempt as well...he was a bit more hesitant that I was. After we crossed, we walked over to the swimming hole and watched some Taiwanese boys swing from the slippery rope, hitting the sides of the wet rocks surrounding them before dropping into not very deep water under the whooshing waterfall. Bacon said if I wouldn't let him get a scooter, there was no way he was letting me attempt the "roped death machine."
Later in the afternoon a Taiwanese boy saw me swimming about like a little fish in the water and pulled me by the hand over to him and his friends on the shore. I was excited- here was an opportunity for me to practice my Chinese! He was a big jokester, and he kept teasing me and asking me rapid questions. I was, however, much to my surprise, able to understand some of it and we talked for quite a while. Obviously much of the conversation was strengthened with actions and his little bit of English, but I still felt accomplished that my Chinese lessons were paying off in a real-life situation. One of the girls in his groups spoke really good English (she said she had been studying for three years) and she came over and did some translating. Irene was so incredibly nice, just like the majority of locals we meet here. Among the questions they asked me were:

"What do you think of Taiwanese people?"
"How do you like living in Taiwan?"
"Where are you from in America and what did you do there?"
"Why did you come to Taiwan/how long will you stay?"
...and of course, the classic: "How tall are you?!"

They kept giving us food and beer, and when I protested, they motioned to their circle of friends in a circular fashion and kept saying the Chinese word for share. They insistently informed me that sharing with friends and strangers is a major part of Taiwanese culture and to refuse is considered "unhappy to your hosts." Irene complimented my Chinese (which was nothing compared to how much English she knew) and said I was so sweet and pretty. The guy kept pretending that Bacon was going to beat him up for talking to me, and we all cracked up when they acted out a little fight scene. They asked me and Bacon, "Do you want play with us?" and we all jumped in the deep part of the river for the rest of the afternoon and splashed around.
I gave the boys some swimming lessons, which was hilarious because they're our age and don't really know how to swim at all. It was so fun making some local friends and great feeling like Bacon and I are slowly breaking down the communication barrier, at least at a very basic level.
Friday, July 24, 2009

New Kitty Cat

(Post by Bacon)
Most of you already know that Alisha and I are huge cat people. We almost didn't come to Taiwan because we didn't want to leave our cats. Well a couple days ago, on our way to a Chinese lesson, we found a cute kitten looking for a home. It was sitting in the bushes next to the Yongning MRT station meowing like crazy. It was dirty and covered in fleas, but too cute to leave alone. We took him home and instantly fell in love with him. I just happened to have my video camera with me when we found the cat, and this is the video I made about him. I hope you enjoy. (His name is Chou, it's Chinese for stinky.)
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A lovely afternoon in Danshui

(Post by Alisha)
Step off the MRT and into the lively commotion of Danshui, a sea-side town in Northern Taipei. Fish bodies glisten and pigs feet sway in the crowded, colorful Old Street, where the fresh fish smell overwhelms the narrow alleyways. It was a great place to get a feel for a traditional fisherman's marketplace, complete with peachy pink squid and shrimp as big as my hand.

We then followed the river down to a fun little stretch of waterfront bursting with carnival games, salty snacks, and great views, often referred to as the Coney Island of Taiwan. We enjoyed some ice cream and sampled a variety of local food, from crispy fish balls to shrimp roll-ups, before finding the ferry docks. Two tickets across the river to Fisherman's Wharf cost less than $1 American and got us there in around 15 minutes.

Fisherman's Wharf features a funky little boardwalk with smoothie shops, shaved ice vendors, sidewalk artists and little benches. The towering "Lover's Bridge" creates a bright white silhouette against the sky and was created to resemble a sailing mast. It's beautiful for a stroll and a great place to view the setting sun over the river. We read books by the river for a while and munched on some delicious hand-battered and spicy-salted squid.

We wrapped up out night with dinner at Waterfront restaurant with a booth peeking right out at the water. A ferry ride back as the sun was going down was a great end to our outing in Danshui.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hohaiyan Rock Festival at Fulong Beach

Wow. This past weekend was hot, sandy and fantastic. I found out the 10th annual Hohaiyan Rock Festival was taking place directly on Fulong Beach, which is on the Northeast Coast of Taiwan. As soon as I heard the unbeatable combination of music and ocean views, I was in.

We (over) packed Friday night and left at 7 a.m. Friday morning, which should establish my level of eagerness to get there. Actually, the main reason we left so early was to beat the insane crowds of people that would be jamming in every nook and inch of floor space on the 1 and 1/2 hour train ride there. A friend who was going to moped there later asked if we would meet up with two girls new to Taiwan who would also be taking the train. We set off with our two awesome new friends bright and early, practically all glowing in our pale skin, blissfully unaware of the degree of sunburn that was in store for us later...

The Longmen Campsite has beautiful grounds just ten minutes from the beach and is only 800NT a night for a four-person tent, so we thought that would be the perfect accomodation for the night. I tried to call earlier in the week and make reservations, shakily asking in Chinese if they spoke English, but to no avail. We decided we would just chance it and check it out when we got there. Well the fact that we ended up camping on the beach under the stars should tell you how that went.

It was literally one of those perfect, straight-from-a-movie days. Deep blue skies, fluffly clouds rolling over the mountains, and waves strong enough to knock you over standing up at knee-level. We set up far enough down the length of the beach to be away from the crowds, yet close enough to hear the music playing in the background as they were setting up the stage. In the afternoon we wandered down the beach to where there were endless rows of red and white striped tents selling drinks, ice cream, snacks, beach apparel, sunglasses, etc.

We loaded up with treats and spent the rest of the morning/afternoon jumping in the waves and hanging on the beach. After we finally noticed that, despite our repeated slathering of sunscreen, we were getting fried, we went over by the pay part of the beach to where the Taiwanese were (wisely) all taking refuge from the sun under giant umbrellas, over-sized floppy hats, and tented shelters. It was too late to rent one of our own, but we made some friends and shared their shade.

Night finally rolled around, and we had some great Taiwanese food- delicious pork and vegetable dumplings covered in soy and a sandwich loaded with grilled veggies and meats, covered in different spices. A few cold Taiwan beers and our group of about 10 was all set for the music festival. We arrived at the concert area, and noticed that virtually everyone had dug deep trenches in the sand, kind of like the beach version of concert bleachers. We started digging and soon had our own comfy sand seats- we lined them with our towels and settled back to enjoy the tunes. The music from mostly local bands ranged from rock to beach reggae- Some of it was great, some was terrible, (most of it we couldn't understand) but we had a blast anyway. Randomly a band would throw in English in a song and then we would all try and sing along to the few words we recognized :)

We finally all got kicked off the concert area of the beach when the show ended, which left us all wondering what to do. We were unsure if we were going to be allowed to stay on the beach, but finally succeeded in convincing the officials we would be staying far, far down on the beach (therefore we wouldn't be a liability, as last year someone drowned). We made a bonfire and had a great time hanging on the beach until we finally succumbed to our exhausted state from the day in the sun and decided to skip the midnight swimming and try and get some sleep. Some of our friends had the foresight to bring tents, but Bacon and I just had a blanket and pillow each. It was definitely a cool experience camping out right under the stars and waking up to the sunrise, though our sunburns and sand whipping in our faces all night made it hard to get a good sleep.

We were planning on staying the whole next day, but we knew it would be not be a good idea as we were literally burned out :) We trudged back to the train station, sticking out even more than usual. All said and done, an awesome weekend that will stick out as one of the highlights of the summer thus far.

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