Friday, April 1, 2011

Play Time!

We have officially moved to the city! Ping Deng Li was just too cold, too moldy and too far away from the doctor! My mom’s roommate at her apt in TianMu moved gave notice so we took her spare room. Neither of us has been sick since we moved down here (knock on wood) and without the hour commute to town each way, we have much more time to play. Here are some shots I’ve taken around town, having fun with my favorite new toy – my iPhone! :D

First order of business, we need to furnish our room in town. New bedroom set courtesy a 7hr shopping spree at IKEA. Phew!

Enjoying a peaceful stroll along the river. This great walking path goes all the way from my mom's house down to Zhishan MRT Sta.

Our room adjoins the small balcony where the washing machine is. This is where we hang out the wash to dry (no dryers in town either). It's also a lovely place to relax and enjoy the view of the river with a nice cold beer.

I've been 'teaching English' to this sweet girl named McKenzie three times a week. Mostly we draw and sing songs...and play Angry Birds on the iPad. Hehehe

McKenzie loves posing me with her favorite stuffed animal 'Ying Ying' the panda. I have literally hundreds of photos

This is me enjoying an afternoon painting and eating dragon eyes!

Jeremy and I found a pizza place called Alley Cats that actually has passable pizza...and a full bar! Jeremy was able to explain to them to make me a cape cod! Hurrah! Oh, and that's my new cat purse.

And this is a real cat. Sara rescued this tiny tabby boy from the park. We kitten sat for her when she had to be gone long hours at work.

Here's Jeremy with the new kitten. He was soooo tiny!

And here's our dear old buddy 'Stop That' giving me the stink eye. My favorite crazy kitty.

We've been partying it up in town too. We met some very cool people here at a celebration for my mom's friend who just finished his dissertation! It was one wild party. I pretty much had to carry Jeremy home, which luckily isn't far at all anymore.

Me and my new bestie in Taiwan - Jackie! We were up till 3am drinking wine, talking motorcycles and comparing cat photos. Yup. Love her!

After a hard day of teaching, I like to unwind at the park! McKenzie's house is just a few blocks away from one of the city's few outdoor skate rinks so I bring my gear with me most days. Sometimes her grandma lets me take her skating too.

Stretching after a good skate work out. It's getting pretty hot here already. When I get done teaching at noon it's usually nearly 90 degrees and muggy!

Rehydrating with a Belgium beer at a cute outdoor cafe near the park. Jeremy was having fun with my phone here too. I love this shot.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Yin & Yang

The island of Taiwan has a population of over 23 million people, making it the 15th most densely populated country in the world behind Macau, Hong Kong and the Vatican City. Taipei, the capital, is of course the largest city with over 7 million people. I couldn’t find statistics on the population of Ping Deng Li, the little town we live in up Yangshan Mountain…but I would guess it’s no more than 500 people. So what you end up with is an extremely densely populated, busting city with high rises and skyscrapers, surrounded by relatively unspoiled jungle, and farmland. It’s a very surreal and beautiful contrast.

The other thing I find interesting about Taipei is how quiet and calm it is for such a big city. 95% of the population of Taiwan practices a mixture of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Maybe that accounts for why they insist on respectful silence in public places, they don’t honk, or push or shout. There is minimal traffic noise during the day and after 10 at night the streets are absolutely silent. Well, no one trained the bullfrogs or cicadas to keep their voices down at night…but on the mountain or in the city, the same Zen tranquility permeates life here.

The Taiwanese people also pride themselves on their honesty and integrity. It is safe here. When I caught a ride down the mountain with that woman in Ping Deng Li, it didn’t even occur to her that it might be dangerous to get in a car with a strange man to hitch a ride. And same thing is true in the city. If I want to go for a run down by the river at 2am, or stay out late in the city and have to make my way home alone in the middle of the night, it’s safe. There are designated ‘safe’ areas on the MRT platforms that are monitored by video at night for women traveling alone, but they really aren’t used. It’s safe here for everyone, everywhere. And they are proud of it. I think I can get used to this…

Going native. I leave some incense burning at a temple near Jintan.

This city is huge. Even out here in Beitou where people go to relax at the hot springs, there are 3-story tall McDonalds and KFCs!

Home in the country.

At the end of the brown line on the MRT there are gondolas that go up over the mountains. We finally found a sunny day and went up to the top, just before sunset to try and get a better view of the city.

High rises blending into the jungle.

Taipei City.

Some little shops and tea houses at the last gondola stop up in the mountains. Nothing in English though.

To give you an idea of scale, that is huge Buddhist temple in the foreground on the hill nearest to us. then beyond the next mountain ridge that is the Taipei 101 in downtown Taipei city. It was the tallest building in the world for about 6 months when it was trumped by that building in Dubai. You can see it over the top of 2 mountains!

I thought this was a pretty shot. The city is massive. And you can still see the 101 in the far distance.

Taipei at sunset.

There are some massive roads here, but you hardly ever see much traffic. Most people use the public transportation because it's by far the quickest way to get across town. You can see the large square at the front of the intersection is for scooters. And the far right lane, I believe is the turn lane....

Another small pleasure in Taiwan. Delectably good chocolates. This place makes the most amazing tea and lavender truffles that are definitely on par with Lillie Belle.

On certain holidays like a saint's birthday, you don't even have to go into the city to worship. They will haul the shrines all over the city, and up the mountains and collect your incense or gifts of fruit and flowers as the trucks go past.

Better watch out for these suspicious characters...

Cycling is a really popular sport here. There's a nearly constant string of bicyclists coming up our road at Ping Deng Li, and it's an intensely steep winding road. It takes 40 minutes by bus! I can't imagine these people biking up and down.

This is me just having fun with Hipstimatic on my new iPhone 4! Yes we have technology here too. The phone itself was spendy, but cell service is about 1/2 the price! Tranquil shot of a little alley way by Shilin Sta.

Hush! No loud phone calls (or birds) on the bus.

Most calm and orderly protest, ever. This anti-nuke protest we witnessed (soon after the quake in Japan) was proceeded by a police escort to help keep the peace.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Taipei International Flora Expo

What’s better than a beautiful exhibit of flowers from all over the world? BAZILLIONS of exotic flowers (like lobelia and pansies)! This year is the 100th Anniversary of Taiwan and to celebrate, Taipei put up this massive flora expo. There were packed exhibition halls, huge themed displays, live music, dance, and outdoor gardens stretching all the way from Yunshan MRT station, past the Fine Arts Museum all the way to the river park. It was so massive that they had shuttle busses to take people from area to another. The whole event was supposed to last from November of 2010 to March, but it was so popular that they extended it well into April.

It had been so cold and rainy that we went on the first sunny Monday in mid-March. That was a mistake, as everyone else had the same idea. I think we arrived at about 9am and the cues to get into the exhibit halls were already miles long, so we decided to skip that! No problem, there was still plenty to see outside. No one does over-the-top quite like the Chinese.

Here's the cue at the Expo Dome. No thank you!

Some exotic lobilia! Oooh

Some gorgeous lillies.

Pansies as far as the eye can see....why?

Some pretty cyclamen.

Vertical gardens are very poplular here. This is a display of mostly lobilia and petunias.

The flower expo is a good place to do a photoshoot with your favorite little anime dolls. Yey!

This was an exhibit of poetry about flowers.

Outdoor stage with some kind of Chinese comedy act going on. It was blazing hot in the sun, and you can see people with umbrellas and shirts over their heads, trying to deflect the heat.

One of the beautiful outdoor gardens.

Rhodys! :)

This is the plaza by Yunshan, just one of the 4 areas of the Expo so you can get an idea of how big it was.

A cool arch made from vertical gardens.

This is one of the displays by the Fine Arts Museum where they had flowers represented from different countries all over the world.

This was the expo area by the river. Mostly just big open spaces and then...this ginormous caterpillar tent! WTF?

I think they could have made this bigger...and probably could have put the shuttle bus drop off at least another kilometer further away. If you get irritated at having to park at the far end of the Costco parking lot...forget about it. People here will walk miles for fun, just to see a couple pansies. And that was the flora expo!

Here’s the website for the Expo if you want to explore some more:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Taste of Taipei

If you are living in the city, it’s easy to eat out all the time. There are a huge variety of restaurants and food markets where you can get cheap noodle bowls, breakfast sandwiches and onion pies. In TienMu where there are a lot of foreigners there are a couple of larger grocery stores. But most Taiwanese people get their food from local markets like the Shadong market in ZongShan N Rd, Section 6. These markets aren’t open all day. Some are morning markets that get started about 6am and close up by 11, and there are night markets which don’t get started until 3-5pm and may go past midnight.

Since we live an hour out of town we are always packing heavy backpacks around with us so we can get groceries home. There aren’t any restaurants near our place, and the only store at PingDeng Li isn’t good for much more than beer, chips and eggs. My mom took us to the Shadong Local market which is actually open when we are awake…but I wouldn’t have any idea what to do with most of this stuff. And there are a lot of things that I’m not even sure if they are meat, vegetable or some kind of dessert!

Also, you have to forget about all your preconceived notions about sanitation. Local farmers bring in fresh fruit and vegetables and lay them out on tarps or directly on the pavement. People set their garlic and radishes out to dry in the sun on old window screens or just on the sidewalk. The meat was probably butchered that morning, but it will often lay out in the open air without refrigeration until you buy it. And even in grocery stores, eggs aren’t refrigerated. They just don’t do that. Seafood is easy though. You can tell so easily by the smell if it’s fresh, and surprisingly enough, in the sketchiest looking places, it doesn’t smell at all fishy.

This is a great vegetarian restaurant close to my mom's house. They have curries, stir fry mushrooms, and all kinds of fake bbq pork dishes, wraps and rice dishes. Wish I could find the fake meat stuff in the store to cook with. No gardenburgers here!

This is the Shadong Market. These red pineapples make a great gift!

Some of the stalls at the Shadong Market. Most of the individually wrapped, and boxed fruits are intended for gifting.

Bulk cookies...I think.

Check out the giant crabs!

Um, I have no idea what those are. Sea cucumbers maybe?

Tons of fresh seafood. Abalone, lobster, crabs etc.

Right next to the seafood stall is this small sushi restaurant in the market. It doesn't get much fresher! The place was packed. Must be good.

Again, I have no idea what that is. The stuff around it looked like either baked goods or maybe dried meats.

A chicken butcher.

Yellow cauliflower.

According to Jeremy, most of the hamburgers in this country aren't edible. However this orange chicken burger with french fry patty, from Mos Burger, is amazing!

It's often hard to find just plain lettuce or salad greens here. Here's a variety of leafy greens you can choose from up in WuLai. The fern fronds are great. No idea what the rest is.

Also up in Wulai, giant bags of dried fungi!

Here's an Egg McMuffin from McDonalds. The eggs here have bright orange yokes and are amazingly good despite the fact that they are never refrigerated. Guess they are really fresh!

And if you want a little taste of home, we do have a Cold Stone Creamery here in Taipei too. But I bet you guys don't have Rose Ice cream!

A bunch of 'cookies' and baked goods at one of the underground markets.

Yes this has to do with food! Ximen has a Japanese style 'maid cafe' if you really want to dine in style.

Misa and I sharing a sundae at Cold Stone. She works at the Cold Stone Creamery in Tokyo and was all excited to go here. Cheers!