Beautiful Taiwan

February 6th- 10th 2016

Hello lovelies!

This post is all about my travels to beautiful Taiwan! I traveled there during my Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year) holidays. I was accompanied by the wonderful Nicole and her friends Bethany and Ayrton. We spent the majority of our time in Taipei, the capital, but also made our way out of the city. Here’s what we got up to…

Saturday: Day 1

We all started bright and early on Saturday to make it to the airport for 6am. Our flight was only at 9am but we wanted to give some extra time given that it was such a big holiday. Surprisingly, it was a lot more tame than we thought. With only a few minor hitches, we were off to Taipei! I enjoyed the movie The Martian, luckily just finishing it in the short 2 hour flight. Taoyuan International Airport was very nice but so tiny; it might even be smaller than Vancouver! Anyways, we whizzed through immigration, picked up our wifi egg at a convenience store, and jumped on a bus to take us into the city.

Jinji Yuan- After dropping off our bags and picking up another traveler named Adiel, also a teacher in Korea, at our hostel we headed out to Jinji Yuan restaurant to try the famed soup dumplings and fried chicken. The soup dumplings were absolutely delicious but the fried chicken was just okay. Needless to say, we were ready to try more of what Taipei had to offer!

*sorry about no pictures… we were very hungry!**

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall- This was our first big tourist spot and it did not disappoint. The memorial hall is an imposing white building with a beautiful octagonal blue roof. There are supposedly 89 steps (representing Chiang’s age at the time of his death) but Adiel only counted 87. There was a cute little museum on the inside and a National Theater and National Concert Hall in the square around it.

Peace Park- This park was a beautiful little area of green space in the middle of the city. We enjoyed walking through it just as the sun was setting. It has a long history but more recently commemorates the massacre of Taiwanese protesters. It is definitely an important historical and cultural spot.

Longshan Temple- This is a very famous Buddhist Temple in Taipei. Despite the sun having set, the temple was very busy and we got to enjoy observing the traditions involved in Lunar New Year. It was a colourful and exciting temple with so much to look at!

NingXia Night Market- I had the joy of meeting my Wynchemna students at NingXia Night Market! The incredible Ken, Gene, Howard, Jack, and Jessie joined our group to show us around the market and help us try all the food. I feel so blessed to have been able to share in their culture with them and I had so much fun! These people totally rock. The foods we tried included: duck tongue, fried fish balls, jelly drink, stinky tofu, pepper bun, oyster omelette, bubble tea, duck head (had by Ayrton and Adiel) and pig’s blood cake (had by me). Notable conversations: the 8 degree weather being cold for them, comparing the Taipei and Seoul subway maps, and laughing at me unknowingly gnawing on duck tongue bones.

Sunday: Day 2

National Palace Museum-We started our day nice and early heading to the National Palace Museum. It is an expansive building located a little outside of the city and nestled into the side of a mountain. We enjoyed the sunshine for a while before checking out some of Taiwan’s rich history. Personally, I find museums quite boring EXCEPT when they have some sort of interactive component. Luckily I found Adiel walking around who took me to the media center! See below the Canadian horse I coloured 🙂 After about 2 hours I had about enough jade, pottery and scrolls that I could handle; thankfully everyone else felt the same.

Baoan Temple and Confucius Temple- Adiel decided to head off on his own, so we said goodbye and traveled across the city to check out some temples. We had some lunch (still unidentified) and accidentally wandered into this cool garden that we thought was a temple. It’s probably ignorant of me to say this, but the Baoan Temple looked remarkably similar to the Buddhist temple. The Confucius Temple was very plain and empty. I took a moment here to sit in the sun and be grateful for my wonderful life.

Taipei 101- Attempt #1 Following the temples we decided to try the Taipei 101.  As silly foreigners we weren’t thinking about it being a holiday! The wait was over 3 hours so we decided to postpone until our last day. Seeing the building up close was awesome though!

Elephant Mountain- We got some coffee and walked to the bottom of Elephant Mountain. It was a totally worthwhile and short 20 minute hike up steps to the top. We found a good spot to watch the sunset and perched ourselves there. From this perspective it is so clear that the cityscape is dominated by the Taipei 101; no wonder my student Tina was so in love with it! It was peaceful and awe-inspiring watching the sun disappear behind the mountains and the city turn on.

Raohe Night Market- From the mountain we made our way to the best night market- Raohe! We walked for hours here and had so much delicious food. Some notable foods included: fried corn, sweet potato balls, fried chicken balls, chocolate bubble tea, baked potato with ham, and garlic pizza.  I also had an egg tart I thought would taste like pasteis natas, but it did not.

Shilin Night Market- Nicole and I dropped Bethany and Ayrton off at the hostel and hit the streets again! We picked up some beer at the 711 and made our way down the street to Shilin night Market- the most famous market in Taipei. To our dismay, a huge part of the market was closed! We still got our hands on fried chicken the size of my face, which was okay. Nicole bought herself an awesome mustard yellow scarf (pictured below) and I got two pairs of earrings… made in Korea! Ironic, eh? All in all, Shilin didn’t wow us.

Monday: Day 3

Hualien- What we expected to be a stressful journey out of the city to Hualien turned out to be a breeze! Our wonderful airbnb host picked us up at the train station and after dropping our stuff and breathing in the fresh air, we immediately made our way to the big attraction: Taroko National Park.

Taroko National Park- This park was without a doubt my favourite part of our trip. We did about 5km of easy hiking along the mountainside through the famous Taroko Gorge. The combination of breathing in the mountain air, feeling my muscles work and the sun on my back was absolute bliss. In Seoul you don’t get a lot of chances to connect with nature this way (or at least I haven’t yet). We walked up until the trail ended at some small stands selling fruit and jewelry. These were run but the Taroko natives that continue to live and thrive in the park. We ate the fruit by the water and just laughed taking silly photos. The water was a little cold, otherwise I would have dipped my feet in. That night we bought some wine and snacks from the 711 preparing for a quaint evening in. To our surprise, we had a knock on our door from our lovely airbnb host. Using her iPad to translate, she invited us for “Bobby Q”, which when I said it aloud realized was a barbecue. We graciously accepted and enjoyed meat, whisky, wine and interesting conversation with her family and two other guests. I say interesting because they would talk to us mostly in Chinese and we would find some way to respond. The night ended in one of our hosts singing us a New Years song and us singing Oh, Canada! Yay for cultural exchange 🙂

Tuesday: Day 4

Shun-an Beach- After a beautiful and delicious breakfast, pictured below, we felt ready for the day! While at breakfast we met the cutest little girls who were staying in the room next door with their mom. They spoke a little bit of English and my heart melted. We didn’t have enough time to go back to the park but we did take a short walk down to Shun-an beach. The weather was perfect and the water warm. I wished we had more time so I could have gone swimming! On our way back we bought some wine and candy for our host and the little girls, respectively. We said our goodbyes and hitched a ride back to the train station.

Fancy last dinner- Our last hostel was located centrally beside Taipei Main Station. After dropping our stuff we tried going up the Makong Gondola to see the tea fields, but yet again were thwarted by long lines. Instead we freshened up at the hostel and made ourselves pretty for our last dinner in Taipei! We found a fancy place with a cool ambiance. We shared well-made food and laughed over glasses of sangria.

Wednesday: Day 5

Taipei 101- Attempt #2 Our second attempt at the Taipei 101 was successful! We waited only 5 minutes and had ample time to walk around floor 89 and the outdoor floor 91. It was cool but after a while, monotonous. It’s really just looking out at buildings, buildings, and more buildings. It was a nice last touristy thing to do though.

 

Following the Taipei 101 we got some lunch, picked up our bags, and reluctantly left for the airport. It was a nice flight back although sad; Nicole and I watched Room. Overall I was happy with our trip and would love to return to Taiwan! Next time I will plan my holiday not on a holiday (as Bethany puts it) and will see more of the country outside of Taipei.

 

Hope you all enjoyed my travels and maybe even feel inspired to visit Taiwan too! I never learned how to say goodbye in Chinese (only hello, thank you, and leg) so I will stick with the usual.

Annyeong!

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Getting settled…. again!

January 19th-February 5th

Hello loved ones!

So I wanted to post this before I left for Taiwan, but you know, life.  So THE BIG MOVE has finally happened and I was able to get settled… again! I’m reaching back almost a month ago now, but here’s what I got up to.

The week of Jan 19th-22nd was the last of our intensive period. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel and even though we were exhausted, counting down the days to it being over was getting us through. The week passed quickly, although things at work were a little tense. I think I have referenced Korean work culture before and how different it is from our Western ways. The issue this week was the foreign teachers leaving on time- we should be staying even longer hours and working even harder during this time. The fact is that most of us have been taking work home or prepared ourselves before intensives started. Regardless, we got some dirty looks leaving every night. By the time Friday hit, we were all ecstatic. We also had a big hoeshik that night which is a company dinner with all of the staff that the company pays for. We stuffed ourselves with Korean BBQ, soju and beer. Later that night Charlie, Sabrina, Andrew and I headed over to Nicole’s with more soju in hand and just had a chill night talking. Having good co-workers is so important here and I’m always feeling so grateful that I get along with mine so well.

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Despite talking until late hours of the night, Nicole and I were up bright and early to meet the Seoul Flyers running crew. Somehow we managed to do 5k in freezing-down-to-your-bones negative 19 weather! After that kind of commitment we decided to treat ourselves and went to a jjimjilbang called Siolam. A jjimjilbang is a Korean bathhouse where you can enjoy a variety of bathes and hot rooms that use natural remedies to keep you healthy. Just to give you full picture I will mention that the bath area is clothing NOT optional; you are completely naked. We started out by going for a full body scrub. The body scrub took place on these pink plastic covered tables. The lady threw a bucket of hot water on the table and  motioned for me to climb up. She then mimed the position she wanted me to pose in. I will tell you, there is no being shy when you are getting a scrub from an ajumma. We probably should have waited until our bodies acclimatized to the indoors because my skin was still cold when this process all started and it hurt! My ajumma was also mad at me because I didn’t want her to wash my hair and she became just a little more aggressive. It certainly was an interesting experience, but I was promised by Nicole that other scrubs are much nicer. Leaving the scrub area with our skin wonderfully soft, we headed to the hot baths. Each had a different temperature and a different natural material that gave the water its healing properties. One had charcoal, another had mudweed, and another had jade. There was also a cold pool (reminding me of the Scandinavian Spa in Collingwood) and some saunas. The bulk of the bath area was taken up by low showers and stools where you can bring your own materials and have a solo scrub party! I’ve been asked if all the staring we got as foreigners was uncomfortable but honestly, I’ve never been in a room full of naked Korean women either, so the staring may have been mutual! After leaving the bath area we put on these cute and tight (one-size-fits-all) t-shirt and shorts that Siolam supplied. We then made our way upstairs to explore the many floors. The floors included: computers, TVs, game rooms, hot jade stones to put your feet on, sleeping areas and finally my two favourite places, the restaurant and the hot rooms. We sat and had some ramen, braised eggs and a special rice drink called sikhye at the restaurant. after lunch we looked into each hot room which again had a specific temperature and some natural material to provide various healing properties.  Nicole left shortly after but I stayed for another 3 hours! It was so incredibly relaxing. The rooms I liked the best were the hot jade room and the hot loess room. After each room I just stepped outside and fell asleep on floor mats with a wooden block as my pillow. I feel bad because my explanation is so shameful and doesn’t even come close to explaining how good this place made me feel. If you come to Korea, I promise to take you!

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After a solo-ride home to Gangdong, I had a surprise invite from Amanda and Greg to have dinner and head to noraebong! Of course, I accepted and thus noraebong part two happened. This time we were in HBC and the vibes we a little different. The place was less fancy, there were less people in the building, and there were only four of us singing: Amanda, Greg, Beejay and I. Of course, amazing singing ensued and Greg and I did some of our favourites, including Changes. By about 1 am we were pretty spent and headed back to Cheonho. Being easily influenced after such a great time, I agreed to continue the party at a place called Ryan Bar with the boys. About 2 and half hours and too much money later, we left the bar. We had some good laughs, but let’s just say what happens at Ryan bar can stay there. Before going my separate way, I joined them for delicious street food. As is becoming my pattern, Sunday was super fun recovery day!

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Jan 25th-29th flew by, thankfully, as the kids started preparing for their term tests! Sadly on that Saturday, we poor Avalon and Langcon folk had to haul our bums to a work event from 1-5pm. I’m not going to talk about it except to say that it was cool meeting other teachers (I didn’t get to make friends at other campuses because I skipped training) and that Amanda’s presentation was the best. It really threw me back to the student leader presentations I used to do at UTM. That night I had dinner with my Taiwan crew: Nicole, Bethany and Aryton. It was so nice to finally have everyone together to talk over the details. We met at a chicken place and can I just say, Korea, you do fried chicken so well! I had a restful Saturday night because on Sunday I FINALLY MOVED! I was told Friday that this was happening but as it goes in Korea, I wasn’t told where to (fun right?)! The move ran mostly smoothly… there was a bit of a miscommunication and my bed got left behind. By miscommunication I mean the guy wouldn’t listen to me when I told him in English and then the guy yelled at me in Korean when we got to the new place and he realized. Did I mention the fun? Anyways, I’m loving my new place; it has a better layout, is cleaner and is only a floor away from Sabrina!!!

February 1st-5th was another speedy week in anticipation of the Lunar New Year holiday and my trip to Taiwan! I tried to squeeze in as much yoga as I could before leaving and of course one last Seoul night on Thursday. What started as a few drinks over dak galbi turned into one for the books! It was one of those nights that weeks down the road I am still going to be remembering all the shenanigans we got up to at God bar (the stinky fart bar I went to on my birthday). Let’s just say Friday was a new kind of challenge for me and I hope to never have a Friday like it again!  That night I wished all of my friends jet-setting off on their own holiday trips and those having stay-cations a lovely Lunar New Year and hurried home to clean and pack!

Next post will be all about the amazing trip to Taiwan. Here are some more random pictures I took over this time period… enjoy and annyoeng!