Monday, June 29, 2009

New Camera and New Video

(Post by Bacon)
As many of you already know I lost my camera on our last hike. After going to two technology markets in Taipei I found the perfect replacement camera - the Sanyo Xacti FH1. It's a full HD camera (1080p with 60 frames per second) with 16x zoom, and it's also a still camera that takes 8 megapixel photos.

I just finished editing my first video with it and uploaded the video to youtube. Unfortunately youtube downgrades the HD quality and it only looks half as good the original edit on my computer, but it's still a lot better than my old camera.
Here is the link to the HD video: Sanxia in 2 Minutes. You have to click the HD button to see it at full quality.
Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sansia Bridge

(Post by Alisha)
Right off of Old Street in Sansia is the very beautiful Sansia Bridge that crosses the (not so beautiful) river. It's a great place for a leisurely stroll with a fantastic view of the city and mountains in the distance.

Taiwan Dining: Din Tai Fung

(Post by Alisha)
On Friday night, Robert and I decided we were in the mood for a meal at an excellent- and inexpensive- Taiwanese restaurant. We ended up at Din Tai Fung, a world-renowned restaurant famous for their very tasty steamed dumplings.
Because it's so popular, we called ahead of time for reservations and got a table within minutes of arriving. The decor is bold and simple, with bamboo seating and black and white photographs on the wall. The restaurant has a central, glass-encased kitchen where you can watch the chefs as they prepare each delicious dish. Waitresses were busy running around with giant bamboo steamers that lock in the heat of each order, and as soon as we sat down we were poured two hot cups of ginger tea. Our first impressions were very good, and we were excited to try the food as we looked over the menu.
We ended up deciding on the juicy pork and shrimp dumplings and a huge plate of shrimp and egg fried rice. Each dumpling order comes with ten, and they are meant to be eaten with the spices, soy, and little slices of ginger set out at each table. You poke a hole in them with your chopstick to release some of the heat and the steamy broth inside, and all the sauces run together to make a truly delectable tasting experience.
As good as those were, our favorite part of the meal was the steamed Chinese layer cake we got for desert. It did not at all resemble the taste or consistency of a "normal" cake, with no frosting or sugary sweet flavor. It was beyond good.
When our bill came, we couldn't believe it- we had tons of food, tea and Taiwan beers, and desert, and our total came to 710 NT- that's about 21 U.S. dollars. We will definitely be back!
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How to Comment (updated)

We have now updated how to leave a comment on our blog posts. It used to be that you needed a google or openID account to leave a message, but now you can just post anonymously. So how about we get some more feedback... jerks. Simply click the comment below each post to do so.
Monday, June 22, 2009

The Wulai Adventure

(Post by Bacon)

So Alisha had the grand idea to go on another waterfall hike. Of course I didn't have any objections because I love waterfalls - they combine all the action and adventure of rocks, water, and falling. This particular hike would have three spectacular waterfalls and natural crystal clear pools to swim in.

In order to get to Wulai we had to take the 908 bus to the MRT, then take the MRT to the end of the green line, take a 40 minute bus ride on the 1060, and then take a 15 minute taxi ride to the national park. Overall it took us 2 hours of travel to get there, but the entertainment we received on our taxi ride was well worth the trip. Our taxi driver was a rather rotund fellow who wore a straw hat accompanied by a red, white, and blue spandex tank top. If that wasn't enough weirdness for us, the dashboard of his cab was filled with inappropriate wooden bobble head dolls. I got some great footage of him saying goodbye to us when we left his cab.

Once we arrived, I couldn't wait to get some awesome footage on my video camera with the new steady cam I made, thanks to this website ( The steady cam was a pain to carry around with its five pound weight and metal-pipe bulkiness, but I thought it would be worth it to get some great waterfall shots. It was a rather easy walk to see the first two dramatic waterfalls located right on the main path. The cooling effects of the waterfalls felt amazing considering it was a 95 degree day with 90% humidity.

We then went off the main path towards the third waterfall. We had just started our hike when a horrendous mishap occurred: I lost my camcorder. I was unscrewing it from the steady-cam and on the last, fatal turn it slipped out of my damp palms and shot straight down an escarpment. I guess I should have predicted it. I was covered in sweat and the air was so saturated that I couldn't get a good grip on the camera. Add this to the fact that I was inching my way down a slippery ledge and mostly focusing on not falling down it myself. As you can imagine, I was a little upset about the whole situation. Not only did I lose my camera, but I lost all the great footage I acquired from our day- not to mention all the work I put into getting the supplies and building this steady-cam that I now had to carry around for the rest of the day without any camera.

After about 10 minutes of me seriously contemplating risking all to fetch my camera, we decided to try to make the best of the rest of our day. After all, it's only a camera and I can always buy another one (plus I now have an excuse to get an HD one). We continued on our hike that got progressively harder. The mountain seemed to continue on forever and the trail was very steep. After a strenuous, drenching, hour and 1/2 hike, we reached the end of our trail and were greeted with a sign that was mostly in Chinese but had a small portion in English that read: "This is the end of the Green Shower trail. Please turn around." Alisha and I were so upset we didn't know what to do with ourselves. Where was the waterfall? Where was the crystal clear pond that we could swim in? What was the whole point of that difficult hike? We were very upset with our day at this point so we turned around and basically fell down the mountain. Once we got back to our original trail we searched in vain for any other way we could take to find our magical swimming spot. We even tried to follow the vague directions given to us by our guide book and fellow bloggers on the internet, but there seemed to be no way to continue. After about an hour of exploration, we gave up and decided to go home.

Overall the trip wasn't a bust. We were able to see some remarkable bugs, prove to ourselves we could hike a difficult trail, and take in some fantastic waterfalls and grand scenery, but after sacrificing my camera to the mountain ghosts and not finding our swimming pond, we were a little disappointed.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hot days, cool eats.

(Post by Alisha)
My new favorite Taiwan treat: shaved ice. Not only is it delicious, it's the most refreshing way to take a break and cool down on a stifling hot summer day here. We had heard about this famous Asian delight before coming, but had yet to try some. After hearing there was a place right in downtown Sansia, we took a stroll to try some for ourselves. We found it easily- I had walked by it a thousand times, but never knew what it was.
Shaved ice is basically exactly what it sounds like- the guy behind the counter takes a huge block of ice and hand grinds it down into a mound of icey goodness- then you pick your toppings. There is a myriad of different tasties to choose from, but we opted for some fresh strawberries and mangos. This is then piled into a large bowl and a little candied syrup is drizzled on top- two spoons and we were set to enjoy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A little taste of life in Taiwan...

(Post by Alisha)
So now that two and a half months have passed and we've started to carve out a little hole called home in this fascinating country, I feel I can finally comment on life in Taiwan from a perspective at least slightly more informed than that of a traveling tourist. I think that we've learned a little and grown a lot even in the small amount of time we have been here.
While walking through downtown Sansia the other night, I had probably one of the coolest experiences as far as truly stepping outside of my comfortable Western shell and experiencing some local color.

I was walking through a familiar, semi-run down section of town before entering the downtown area, and a group of locals were sitting outside their moped repair garage perched on upside-down buckets and stools gathered around a large bowl. They were a jovial bunch, and I knew as I walked past they were going to wave and smile and beg me to join -- tall, unusual, blonde, foreigner that I am. Usually I just smile and say "xie xie, thank you" and point to my wrist as if I'm in a hurry to get somewhere.
However, this particular night, I thought, "Why not?" After all, that's partly what I'm here for- to really see what another culture is like. And while I have been doing this to a point, the menus in English, the malls, and the generally English-speaking Taipei itself can sometimes feel like I'm getting a safe and foreigner-friendly dose of this reality. So this time I did accept their invitation- granted it was given completely in Chinese, but waving hands and pointing at a dish of food can only mean one thing. As soon as I shook my head yes, they literally ran around wildly searching for a bucket for me to sit on and gestured insistently towards the bowl of food in the middle.
Here's where I found myself suddenly unsure of my decision. It was a large sea of broth with unidentifiable vegetables and thick, greenish bodies of fish floating inside. Just as I began to frantically imagine some excuse I could communicate to try and get out of this, they pulled out a clean bowl and new pair of chopsticks and motioned for me to help myself. Knowing there was no turning back at this point, I scooped up some of the soupy-looking concoction and a big piece of the fish. They all stared at me as I brought the fish to my mouth in false confidence, masking my trepidation, and took a big bite...only to find it was delicious! I couldn't believe it- fresh fish cooked in this steamy seasoned broth tasted great. They laughed and laughed- in the joking way of good cheer- and indicated they were very pleased with the way I ate with the chopsticks and enjoyed the food. They broke out a cold Taiwan beer and kept saying "Taiwan pi jui, (beer) good good good!" I couldn't help laughing too, mostly at myself for how nervous I was at trying something new, and responded "dui, hao! (yes, good)." We sat around "talking" for about 15 minutes, though they couldn't speak any English and my Chinese is very limited. I finally left after much protest, and continued on my way.
On my return home, I brought them a small bag of candy and dried fruit I bought from a street vendor and tried to give it to them, having read that gifts are expected in Taiwanese culture in return for a meal or invite to someone's home. They adamantly refused to accept it, as I had anticipated, but after much insistence on my part, they finally took it and shared it around. Wow, what an awesome glimpse into a different way of life.
Thursday, June 11, 2009

Manyueyan Video

(Post by Bacon)
Alisha already went into detail about our Manyueyan hike in the last post so I'll just show you the video.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hiking at Manyueyuan

(Post by Alisha)

Who knew a little piece of paradise was located in our very own Sansia? After a long and stressful six-day work week, a group of us went off for a beautiful hike in the Manyueyuan National Forest Recreation Area. Our friend Liz had been there before and said it was a must-see with its cascading waterfalls, butterflies, and easy-going hiking trails. The steep and varying landscape creates the perfect atmosphere for all kinds of flowing water, from the powerful Virgin and Manyueyuan Waterfalls to the numerous winding trails of humble rocky waters. My favorite stop was Virgin Waterfall, where the mist from the falls sprinkled our skin after the humid trek it took to get there. It was a very refreshing experience, both in the literal and figurative sense. We saw a rock shaped like a turtle and several large and stunning butterflies while walking, but alas did not see the groups of monkeys that are rumored to travel the forests of Manyueyuan. Maybe on our next trip...

Below are some pictures. A video of the trip made by Robert will follow shortly-

Monday, June 8, 2009

Learning Chinese 北方話 官話

(Post by Alisha)

Up to this point in our journey in Taiwan, Bacon and I have found three ways to communicate:

1. Hand gesturing/miming the intent
2. Our limited vocabulary of Chinese words and phrases we've acquired since our arrival in Taiwan
3. Relying on the abundance of Taiwanese that can speak English- this ranges from small conversation phrases to fluency.

As we're tired of all three, (especially the third item- we feel ignorant living in a country and "expecting" them to speak our language just to be able to converse), we have decided to get a Chinese tutor so we can at least learn enough for basic conversation and speaking.

We met with Twinsen on Sunday night, and it was a success! He offered the first hour as a trial period to see if we liked his style of tutoring, and we both decided that he was a great teacher. He provided us with a clear introduction to the Chinese language, includingㄅbo ㄆpo ㄇmo ㄈ fo and pinyin (slightly akin to learning the abc's in English), pronunciation and blending of sounds, explanation and examples of the four tones, and basics like pronouns and "be" verbs. Some sounds are extremely hard to pronounce because we never use those sounds in English, and the tones mean that one word can have four different meanings. Chinese is rated as one of the top three hardest languages to learn as a second language, but we are hoping that with weekly lessons and practice, we will slowly be able to break the communication barrier. As of now, we are going to meet at a tea house in Taipei, Ximen area, Sunday nights at 7:00 for an hour and a half. He charges $500 NT/hr ($15 American dollars), so it will work out to be less than $10 each a week- awesome. We are also buying the book he teaches with: "Practical Audio-Visual Chinese," (實(shí) 用(yòng) 視(shì) 聽(tīng) 華(huá) 語(yǔ), so that we will be able to do homework during the week and practice with each other.

Wish us luck!
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

C.K.S. Memorial Hall Trip

(Post by Bacon)
Last Friday Alisha and I took a trip to go see C.K.S. Memorial Hall (find out about it here). The whole place is very stunning and features classic Chinese architectural style. The grounds are also home to the National Theater, National Concert Hall, Taiwanese art exhibits, and lush, scenic gardens. Below is a quick video I made showcasing the highlights of our trip.

The Next Video Should Be?

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