Wednesday Write-Up: Memories Part 2

On Monday I started a week-long series sharing my favorite pictures from our travels in preparation for the new year. Mondays post encompassed our time traveling in the States, Curacao, Portugal, Disneyland Paris, and Budapest, Hungary. Today my post will … Continue reading

Monday Montage: Goodbye Taipei

We have arrived in Bangkok, Thailand!  I am currently hanging out in our short term rental that we got on airbnb.com and relaxing after a very long day of traveling. Here are the last pictures I took of Taiwan. I cannot believe our time there is up already, it was very sad leaving our friends, but I was ready to see some new places. So here we are … IN THAILAND!!!

The corner of the roof of the National Concert Hall

The corner of the roof of the National Concert Hall

Public Bicycles for rent and the Barbie Restaurant on the right

Public Bicycles for rent and the Barbie Restaurant on the right

Wall of a pharmacy

Wall of a local pharmacy

Dessert at Dazzling Cafe at the Breeze Center

Dessert at Dazzling Cafe at the Breeze Center- Seriously delicious!!

Another dessert at Dazzling Cafe Photo taken by Angela Liu

Another dessert at Dazzling Cafe                                    Photo taken by Angela Liu- Thanks Angela!

A decorated street corner near our house

A decorated street corner near our house

CKS Memorial Hall and Liberty Square

This past Sunday was a gorgeous day that made us want to be out of the house, which is not normal for us. Sundays are usually our lazy days, but with our time dwindling in Taipei and the wonderful warm weather, we had to take the opportunity to see more of the city. Chad had the idea to go to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall here in Taipei and walk around.

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Just to start with a little background information… Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) was the President in China until the communist party started a gruesome civil war with him. He retreated to Taiwan when China was no longer safe for him and ruled for over 30 years under martial law. That is just my badly summarized version of his life, if you want the full story, check it out here.

When CKS died in 1975 The Taiwanese government began planning a memorial hall for him. They started building the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial on what would have been his 90th birthday in 1976. It was completed in 1980 on the anniversary of his death.

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Chad, Zoë, and I arrived at the CKS Memorial Plaza, now called “Liberty Square” that houses the memorial early in the afternoon. It was an easy metro ride straight into the park (CKS Memorial hall stop on the green line). We walked through the beautiful gardens lackadaisical, taking in all the scenery while letting Z run around and tell us about all the new things she saw along the way.

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The garden on the way from the metro to the plaza

We came up to the actual entrance to the Liberty Square, an enormous white gateway topped with a purple roof that looks like an open wall of a pagoda. There were many people milling about, most were taking pictures, but there were also a bunch of teenagers practicing their hip hop dancing. I really wish I had a video of the teens, they were decidedly serious about their dance moves. I would have watched them longer, but there was no stopping Zoë for even a moment. She wanted to go, go, go!

The entrance to the plaza

The entrance to the plaza

We continued walking towards the CKS memorial hall, which took us between the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. These matched buildings were impressive to say the least. I will let the picture of them do the talking as I would hate to bore you with flowery adjectives that I found on thesaurus.com.

The National Theater  Photo credit here

The National Theater-
Photo credit here

The National Concert Hall Photo Credit Here

The National Concert Hall- Photo Credit Here

As we were walking past the palatial and stately (okay, so I used the thesaurus a little) twins, we noticed a walkway beneath them. We decided to explore and found that there are restaurants, shops, and a coffee shop. We grabbed a coffee to give ourselves the much-needed energy to keep up with our excited, and extremely active toddler.

Running towards the CKS Memorial Hall

Running towards the CKS Memorial Hall

We resumed our trek down the plaza toward the massive white and purple octagonal building that houses the statue of Chiang Kai-Shek. We walked up the sets of stairs quickly, well Z hopped “liked Tigger” up them, and looked upon the likeness of the controversial and loved former President . The gigantic statue of Chiang Kai-Shek reminded me of the Lincoln Memorial, I think it was the fact that they are both sitting and have similar positioning. We happily realized that we had arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guards. We took some pictures of what turned out to be an exceedingly long performance and ducked out before the show was over. It was interesting, but not enough to hold our attention that long.

Hopping "like Tigger" up the stairs

Hopping “like Tigger” up the stairs

Changing of the guard in front of the CKS Statue

Changing of the guard in front of the CKS Statue

We walked down the stairs on the left of the memorial hall and realized that this building also had a secret entrance below it. Okay, so it wasn’t really a secret, but in all the times I had been to the site in the past (quite a few actually when we lived here before) I had never noticed it. Inside were some souvenir shops, a post office, a museum, and a few food and snack places. We walked though and exited out the other side, deciding to make our way back to the metro station to head home.

Along the way we came to a pond that was full of Koi fish. Lucky for us there were statures that looked like Koi as tall as me selling fish food for just 10 NT. Z fed the fish a few times while I sat and took in the surroundings. There was a quaint white bridge over the pond and the foliage surrounding it made it feel like you were in some sort of Chinese impressionist painting.

Feeding the Fish

Feeding the Fish

The little bridge over the pond

The little bridge over the pond

The plaza was one of the most magnificent and enjoyable memorials I have been to in Taipei or anywhere. The natural and man-made aspects of the area fit together perfectly and make it so that no matter where you look it is pleasing to the eye. So take a day, or an hour, pack a picnic, or grab a meal in one of the restaurants located in the grandiose buildings, no matter what you do here, it will be a lovely experience.

Monday Montage: Last Week In Taiwan

This week is our last week in Taipei and we have been trying to see everything that we haven’t had a chance to yet. It turned out that we ran out of time to see Hualien and Taroko Gorge (again, Ack!). Well, I guess that that will be the first destination for our next trip to Taiwan. Next week we will be in Thailand!

The police are watching us

The police are watching us

This guy was climbing the walls in a hiking store...just a little creepy looking

This guy was climbing the wall in a hiking store…just a little creepy looking

Heping Road at night

Heping Road at night

Civic Boulevard at night

Civic Boulevard at night

Bourbon bears? Hmm

Bourbon bears? Hmm

That is a strange temporary building next to the Dandy Hotel

That is a strange temporary building next to the Dandy Hotel

Taipei World Trade Center, or as I call it the Minecraft Building (xbox owners will know what I mean)

Taipei World Trade Center, or as I call it the Minecraft Building (Xbox owners will know what I mean)

A rummage sale (tons of vintage things) we happened upon while walking in the Xinyi district

A rummage sale (with tons of vintage things) we happened upon while walking in the Xinyi district

I am not sure what this is all about, but they are always sitting and meditating outside of Taipei 101

I am not sure what this is all about, but they are always sitting and meditating outside of Taipei 101

Wild, Wondrous Wulai

This week we decided to take the trek to a town just south of Taipei called Wulai. We traveled to Wulai many times when we lived here years ago. Wulai is famous for it’s natural hot springs,  waterfall, and a gondola that takes you to the top of the waterfall (yippee, I hope that you can detect my sarcasm in that expression). It is just a short 45 minute scooter ride from Taipei.  This time around we had to take public transportation because Chad and I are just not comfortable having all three of us on a scooter (it is possible, I have seen families of 5 on one scooter!). We mulled over the options to get there and decided to take the MRT to the Xindian stop (last stop on the green line) and then take the 849 bus to Wulai. It was the cheapest way to get to Wulai, just costing 7 NTD for the MRT and 15 NTD for the bus (about 75 cents US). You can take a taxi from the Xindian Station, but the going rate is 600 NTD ($21 US), so the decision was an easy one.

The Metro ride was smooth and painless, but long, taking about 45 minutes. The bus ride, on the other hand, was quite an adventure. We thought that going to Wulai mid-afternoon on a weekday would mean that the bus would be empty and we would have seats for the hour-long ride. As we got on the crowded bus, there was standing room only. “Ok”, I thought, “I can do this”, as I held my now sleeping two-year old with one arm and the plastic swinging handle above my head with the other hand. I was great until we started moving, that first pump on the gas, I almost fell backward into the crowd. The bus driver obviously thought he was practicing for the Indy 500, driving like a maniac over the tiny, winding, mountainous roads. I let go of the handle and grabbed onto one of the side bars like my life depended on it. I say I grabbed onto it, but what I really mean is I wrapped as many of my limbs around it as humanly possible. With each turn I could feel my arm (and leg) muscles straining and working out. Who knew that I could “pump iron” while taking a bus ride?!

When we got closer to the town, finally enough of the elderly people who have priority to the seats disembarked so I was able to sit down. I was shaky and a bit car sick, but I felt like I had just ran a marathon and came in first (obviously I would come in first, I am the ultimate example of fitness). All this excitement and we hadn’t even made it to Wulai yet!

When we arrived at the terminal stop in Wulai, we walked a short distance to the main road that takes you through the touristy part of the town. It  looks like a walking path, but be aware because taxi’s and scooters fly through there with apparent disregard for the many pedestrians diving out of the way.

The main thoroughfare through Wulai

The main thoroughfare through Wulai

The street is lined with souvenir shops selling aboriginal crafts (most of them looked like they were made in China, but some shops did look as though they had actual hand crafted products), Taiwanese sausage stands, and restaurants that all offered the same dishes. You can find out more about the dishes in this Pig Pig’s Corner blog post .  We grabbed a couple of sausages and started exploring.

Taiwanese BBQ sausage, yes please!

Taiwanese BBQ sausage, yes please!

Walking across the colorful bridge on our way to the waterfall

Walking across the colorful bridge on our way to the waterfall

A not so pretty way of getting power from one side of the river to the other

A not so pretty way of getting power from one side of the river to the other

The river is a greenish blue color and foggy from the hot springs

The river is a greenish blue color and foggy from the hot springs

Almost to the waterfall

Almost to the waterfall

Wulai is a fairly small town and is easily walked, after the tourist street, you cross a bridge to the actual town.  I always judge the size of a Taiwanese town by the amount of  7-11’s they have. Wulai has one 7-11, it is small, so don’t worry, even if you aren’t much of a hiker, walking through Wulai is doable. For those of you using strollers, there are no sidewalks, but the streets are nice enough where that was not an issue.

You can take a taxi to the waterfall which is about 1 km up the mountain, but I love to walk and we decided to trek it. The way is nicely paved, but is just one lane with no sidewalk, so make sure that you pay attention, because taxi’s will try to take you out at every blind turn.

A picture of the whole waterfall

Wulai Falls

The walk was non-strenuous and quick, taking only about 20-30 minutes. When we reached the waterfall area we realized that there was a little train that will take you from Wulai to the waterfall. I was happy to have walked though, it worked off the sausages that we ate along the way. We walked past more souvenir shops, some cafes, and the Wulai Tram Museum.

Also at the top of the hill is a gondola that takes very brave people to the top of the waterfall.  It is the oldest gondola in Taiwan. Yay… that was said with complete and utter respect and fear. Chad and I discussed taking it to the sights at the top of the waterfall that we have heard are amazing, including a restaurant called Tops that overlooks Wulai. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I love adventure, especially when it makes me fear for my life, but the bus ride already gave me enough adrenaline rush for one afternoon.

See those dots hanging over the gorge...yep, those are the gondolas... in fact the oldest gondolas in Taiwan

See those dots hanging over the gorge…yep, those are the gondolas… in fact, they are the oldest gondolas in Taiwan

We made it to the waterfall! And for some reason we decided it was a good idea to squat while taking the photo?! Anyways, you get half of the waterfall and us

We made it to the waterfall! And for some reason we decided it was a good idea to squat while taking the photo?!

Zoë was quite fascinated with the Wulai Falls

Zoë was quite fascinated with the Wulai Falls

A statue of an aboriginal man and his dog

A statue of an aboriginal man and his dog

We (meaning Chad) took some pictures of the waterfall and decided to take the Wulai Log Ride back down to town. We bought our 50 NTD tickets at the Wulai Tram Museum and boarded the train without waiting. As with any other tourist destination in Taiwan, I would highly suggest going to Wulai only on weekdays. There are very few people and no lines to speak of so it is much more enjoyable.

Painting of the Wulai Log Train

Painting of the Wulai Log Train

We walked back to the bus station and I boarded the 849 with some trepidation. We were lucky this time and Chad and Zoë got a seat. I felt like working out my now stronger muscles a little bit more, but soon a seat opened for me as well. We were able to take the bus all the way back to Taipei Main Station which cut about 20 minutes off our trip back.

I really enjoyed our trip to Wulai and we will definitely go back. We didn’t take the time to go in the natural (and free) hot springs, but will next time for sure. It was just sprinkling enough to make me not want to get into a swim suit. As far as the gondola goes, that will have to be done at another time, or maybe never… I say this as only a person scared of heights can hope.

Wednesday Write-Up: Spiritual Lesson Learned

Every Tuesday for the past five weeks I have made my way to Grace Baptist Church near the Gongguan area of Taipei to attend Bible Study Fellowship. I  have really enjoyed studying and discussing the Bible with my discussion group, a wonderful group of Taiwanese women that have been incredibly warm and welcoming.  I loved getting to know my group,  women of faith walking their love of Christ instead of just talking it. And the fact that they study the Bible and discuss it in English (I was the only native English speaker!) was just awe-inspiring. I do not know that I will ever be proficient enough in another language to do something like join a bible study using it, I can barely function using English!

I was captivated by the stories of what many of the ladies in my group had to go through to be Christian here in Taipei. It helped me put in perspective how easy we Christians have it in America.  We may get persecuted to a certain extent back in the States, but it is rare to hear about someone being ostracized from their family because they choose to be a Christian.  Or maybe I just grew up in a more accepting area, because I always felt that my beliefs were not an issue for those I was in contact with, or at least people seemed to quietly tolerate them.  I have honestly never felt hated because of my faith (well, except for in the media occasionally, but that’s a story for another day, very very far in the future, if ever). I think that many people in my home town (maybe all of America, but I hate to speak for such large numbers of people) think the same that I do, that everyone should have the freedom to have faith in what they wish. My time attending the Taipei BSF has really made me realize that I need to be thankful that I am able to state my beliefs and share them without fear of recourse.

I have often prayed and asked God what He wants me to learn on this trip that he has so generously blessed us with. I think that this may be one of the lessons (among so many others so far, a few of my previous blog posts can fill you in on those) that He wants me to grasp and act on. I have lived in a bubble for so long as far as my faith goes, that I often hear stories about people persecuted for their faith, but have spent little, to no time actually, thinking or praying for those that struggle in a society where freedom of religion is not a right (either politically or societally) . Attending this bible study has been a wonderful lesson in empathy and love for me. If you pray, please help me in praying for the wonderful ladies here in BSF, as well as all the Christians here in Taiwan.

Now on a totally different note, the countdown has begun, we have 12 days left in Taiwan, so the packing needs to begin. Seriously how is it that I can accumulate so much crap stuff in three months?!? More on that fun topic later…

Best Street Food in Taipei

In our previous time living in Taipei, there was one night market that I enjoyed more than any other. The Shihlin Night Market is by far the best in the Taipei area. We went there the other night, so I can give you details as to why this is the market to go to. You may not want to read this hungry, because I am going to tell you about some food that is drool-worthy.

One of the many beautiful fruit stands in Shihlin Night market

One of the many beautiful fruit stands in Shihlin Night market

We arrived at the night market around 5 pm on a week night. The crowds can be intense on the weekends, so if you want to truly enjoy and take your time make sure to go on a weekday. At 5:00 pm all the shops are open, but the kiosks and vendors that have their stalls in the center of the alley ways were just setting up. It was a perfect time to get there.
We started in the main area, checking out the numerous clothing stores, passing up the many opportunities to buy a cranberry or lime juice, and taking our time and really enjoying the night. The great thing about the Shilin Night Market is that even the regular stores that line the street are often much less expensive than stores in other areas. For example, we bought five outfits for Zoë at one of the clothing stores and ended up only spending 750 NTD (about $25 US). There are good deals to be found and they are easy to find, too. You will not have to dig around in stacks an stacks of items to find the one thing that is reasonably priced like at some other markets.

Walking through the market is very easy despite the crowds

Walking through the market is very easy despite the crowds

Chad, Zoë, and I walked around and came to some food stalls. The smells were amazing, well except for that one obnoxious stinky tofu stall right in the middle of them all. There were many choices and they all looked delicious, except again for the stinky tofu… I just cannot bring myself to try eating something that smells like beer flatulence that has escaped a long dead corpse. Chad and I started with some steamed vegetarian buns, which are like large dumplings filled with cabbage, carrots, mushrooms and other fresh veggies, then steamed and quickly fried so that just the bottom has a bit of crispiness to it. All three of us loved them.
Then we found a Thai stall and got a honey banana roti (a thin crepe fried with banana’s inside and drizzled with honey) and a Thai iced tea. A taste of things to come… I am definitely going to have to get on a strict exercise routine when we get to Thailand, because I have to be able to enjoy Thai iced teas and roti whenever I want. There are priorities in life, right?
Then we got an order of what appeared and tasted like fried balls of seafood covered in a wasabi sauce and toasted onion slivers. I have no idea what this dish is called, but they have stalls selling them in every neighborhood that I have seen so far. This was the first time that I tried them, and the wasabi sauce was to die for, but I could have done without the seafood balls as they were a bit runny. The texture grossed me out a little although they did taste pretty good.

The "seafood balls" being made for us

The “seafood balls” being made for us

We then meandered to a stall selling Indian samosas and ordered two vegetarian ones. We waited and watched while one of the gentlemen pounded out the pastry dough and handed it to his co-worker to fill and fry. They hand made every samosa when it was ordered! I was quite impressed. The samosas tasted wonderful.
While we were waiting for our samosas, I bought Z a quail egg ball stick (a name I made up for it, I honestly do not know what they are really called), which are exactly what they sound like, quail eggs that are fried in the shape of balls and put on a stick. Zoë loved them, I tried one and it tasted exactly like a chicken egg. What a great protein filled snack for a growing toddler though.

Getting  the "quail egg ball stick" (although maybe they are pigeon eggs because of the picture on the sign?)

Getting the “quail egg ball stick” (although maybe they are pigeon eggs because of the picture on the sign?)

After that I was finally full and very satisfied. I was ready to go back to shopping.
The market is gigantic, we were not able to go through it all, in the 3 hours we were there. There was so much to see and do that we would probably need a week to go through the whole thing.
One thing is for sure though, I left the market feeling like I had won the street food lottery. And for me, if the food is good, the place wins. Shihlin Night Market is a winner. Go and taste for yourself!

P.S. If you know the correct names for any of the dishes above, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I would love to know and be able to update this post.

Wednesday Write-Up: Changes Are Always Welcome

I have never been one to stay in the same place for very long. I not only like change in my life, but I crave it. Many people do not understand my need for new or different places and circumstances. I have had people question my happiness and have often gotten the statement “You take yourself with you” from people that are more desirous of a sedentary life than me. I have had people tell me that I should stop running away from my problems… which yes sometimes I did have problems, and sometimes I did run from them… but I do not think I could have enough problems (at least I pray that I never have enough problems) to make me want change as much as I do. I just love change. And just as I struggle to understand someone wanting to live in the same town, working the same job, or even eating the same meals day in and out, I know that there are those that have a hard time understanding me. It is really just a part of my personality.

On that note, another big change is coming for us in the next few weeks and I am so excited!!! Although I have loved our time here in Taipei, and will miss our friends here very much, I am looking forward to our next destination. THAILAND!!!! We just bought our plane tickets (boy, have they gotten more expensive in the last 5 years, who would have imagined?!?!) and booked our apartment for Bangkok and our hostel in Hua Hin.

I can practically taste the delicious street food already! Oh, did you think I wanted to see the beautiful beaches, maybe do some shopping, and enjoy the amazing climate? Well that is part of it, but honestly since we booked our flight, my mouth has been watering for the best food in the world. I really need to take up jogging, because I can see that this may become a problem.

Until we are off on that jet plane, we will continue to experience all we can in Taiwan. Next week we are going to Hualien and checking out Taroko Gorge. We also are planning on a visit to Wulai and the gondola trip there (Lord help me, why do I do this to myself), and some night markets here in Taipei.

Is there anywhere else you can think of that we should visit here in Taiwan, or maybe foods I should try? Leave a comment and let me know, I always love hearing from you!

Monday Montage: Maiden Voyage

I have been thinking for a while now that I would like to add another day to my scheduled blog posts. The problem was that I couldn’t decide on what I should do with it. Then the other day, I was out and about and I started texting my Mom pictures of the things I saw as I went about my day. The pictures I sent her were not of tourist attractions or monuments, they weren’t even that clear, they were just blurry idea’s of what I was seeing at that moment. I realized that I wanted people to see what I see normally while we are traveling, not just the “sights”.

I am hoping that this will this give you, my wonderful readers, a chance to see more of what I see of the places we go. My photography skills leave much to be desired at this point, but bear with me, a by-product of the Monday Montage will be that it will make me take more pictures every day and because of that hopefully my smartphone photography will improve.

So here it is, the maiden voyage of Monday Montage. I hope that you enjoy seeing our journey as well as reading about it on Wednesday and Friday. Thanks again for following along on our adventures!

Our neighborhood park

Our neighborhood park

Wuxing Street on a rainy day

Wuxing Street on a rainy day

My favorite breakfast place down the street from our house. These ladies make the best cheese dan bing (a savory crepe, a slice of american cheese and an egg rolled up and covered in miso syrup) around.

My favorite breakfast place down the street from our house. These ladies make the best cheese dan bing (a savory crepe, a slice of american cheese and an egg rolled up and covered in miso syrup) around.

An advertisment I saw while walking. Did you know that everyone shops here while wearing pink wigs?... Neither did I!

An advertisment I saw while walking. Did you know that everyone shops here while wearing pink wigs?… Neither did I!

The Core Pacific Living Mall at night

The Core Pacific Living Mall at night