Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Dinner at Splendor

Just a quick update on how Christmas dinner in Taichung went... MMMM! We went to the Euro A buffet at the Taichung Splendor Hotel. It's a beautiful restaurant. Never before have turkey, roast beef, sashimi, and whole crab fought for my attentions as Christmas protein. We all had a great meal and enjoyed bottomless juice, soda, beer, and coffee for about NT$850 per person which seems pricey, but really paid for itself while we feasted and drank our fill over hot, familiar food. For anyone looking to celebrate a holiday alone in Taiwan, a turkey buffet at a big hotel is really the way to go. Pumpkin mashed potatoes... I'll leave it at that.

After dinner we played Bad Santa, though no one actually ended up stealing anything! I came home with a beautiful box of chocolates, and Boje opened a new webcam!

Christmas is a flash in the pan in Taiwan, as it's now 7:30 the following morning and we're getting ready for Chinese class and work tonight. We had an excellent weekend with some wonderful Skyping, some beautiful packages in the mail, and lots of quality time with friends. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Love and Merry Christmas from both of us!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Merry!

First of all, Happy Festivus and Merry Christmas!

Yesterday morning was pretty amazing. Brett and I woke up at a halfway decent hour to Skype with our friends as they celebrated Festivus back home. I thought it would make me feel incredibly homesick, but I actually felt way better! Yesterday flew by and it was hard to feel sad about missing our friends and family when we had so many frantic errands and tasks to do to prepare for the weekend. I also spent the afternoon at the branch teaching kids in an English social club how to bake sugar cookies. The catch was that we were using a "Taiwanese" oven the size of my microwave. My co-teacher at the branch did an amazing job of pulling together all the baking ingredients I needed which is quite a feat on short notice in a country where home baking isn't a big thing. We were still missing a few key things (like one-cup measuring devices, for instance!) but we improvised with an elaborate system of tablespoons and plastic cups.

The kids were split into two groups and they all got to take turns measuring ingredients and mixing them together. They all did a pretty good job. I tried not to micromanage and I think as a result of the cold medicine I was on I kept my cool pretty well. There was considerable spillage. There were erroneous measurements. There was flour on a boy's face. The girls team eventually forgave me for convincing them to make "purple" dough which actually turned out pretty grey. They even baked me a Thank You cookie!

This evening, our friend, Denton, came into town from the county. We went out for an amazing Indian dinner at a restaurant called Bollywood near the Science Museum. Nothing says Christmas Eve like onion pakoras and a selection of rich curries! We then went for a stroll to SOGO nearby and had some lovely Christmassy encounters with Taiwanese people. As we walked through an underground tunnel to the department store, we came across a Taiwanese man playing the harmonica. He asked us where we were from and when we told him Canada, he busted out a beautiful rendition of Red River Valley. What a hustler - our wallets were out ASAP.

We had a lovely evening of Christmas movies and Star Trek episodes (though I must admit I snoozed through half of it) and we had a great Christmas morning of Skyping with our families and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. We're going out for Christmas dinner with some other foreigners in Taichung tonight, and I can't wait!

Cookies baked by Amanda's students
Care package from Annemarie & Kenny!
Xmas Feast, 7-11 style
Denton & Amanda at at Taichung's Sogo

Monday, December 19, 2011

This is my friend. His name is Tim. He is a good friend.

The kids I teach don’t do a lot of drawing in class. In fact a lot of my students don’t do any drawing. Yet, every now and then there is some free time in a class or a substitution pattern in which they can write their own substitution and then draw a picture. 

In one of my youngest classes there are two boys that sit next to each other, Jack and Tim. The substitution pattern they were practicing was very simple: 

This is my friend. His/Her name is _________. He/She is a adjective friend. 

Jack drew his friend Tim, and I simply couldn’t resist sharing his artwork. 

I think there are some valuable life lessons to take from Jack’s drawing. These being: 

1. When you come in first, don’t miss the opportunity to do a funky dance on the first place podium and rub it in everybody’s face.  

2. Second place isn’t bad. Sure, you’ll feel like you’re in the shadow of a giant, as Tim does something that resembles the truffle shuffle, but don’t feel bad, it could have been much much worse. 

3. Coming in third place is when things start getting much much worse. Don’t be a cry baby. Stand there and grimace if you must. Just remember there are a lot of people much worse off than you. 

4. This is the point at which you sprout vampire teeth and your hair catches on fire. 

5. Okay, now your whole body is on fire. 

6. You came in sixth place. Seriously, you should be ashamed of yourself. Just throw yourself off the podium why don’t you! 

7. Well this chap looks fairly happy. He does also appear to have a halo with wings floating above his head. Perhaps he has died or is just delirious with disappointment. 

8. No hand head stand. “DON’T TALK TO ME! I CAME IN EIGHTH!!!”  

9. When you come in ninth place, you don’t get to stand on a podium, you get strung up by your feet and dangle above it while people take advantage of the opportunity to use you as a punching bag and tell you how badly you did. 

10. You came in tenth. Eat some rat poison, fall off the podium and die! 

11. I don’t even want to guess what is going on on/under the 11th place podium. 

12. You’ve turned into a monster. I don’t think there’s any coming back from this disappointment. 

13. You came in last, and appear to be a ghost. What more can I say.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Teaching Kids How to Make Pancakes,...

… that was my Saturday. Not bad at all considering I was being paid to do it as well!

The private language school I work for has an extra-curricular “club” program whereby children have a Saturday class once every few weeks. The program is all about learning new things and having fun in an environment speaking only English, but there is no focus on teaching grammar patterns or anything like that.

So far, I’ve taught one “Words in Songs” class (not that much fun), one “Little Picasso” class (lots of painting, kids enjoyed it, and this weekend the theme topic was “Little Chef”. The teachers guide recommended teaching the students how to make spaghetti. Instead, I opted to teach them how to make pancakes.

After discussing what ingredients were required, my branch were kind enough to collect everything that was necessary for the class and they even brought in two portable gas stoves because the branch kitchen is currently only equipped with a microwave and toaster oven.

To start with I had the students come up to the front, introduce themselves to the class and tell everyone what their favorite food is. Predictably, this inevitably resulted in a few students declaring, “My favorite food is poo-poo!” Haha, very funny kids... NOT! Thereafter, I gave the kids a quick and serious talking to about the importance of washing hands and what they can and can’t touch after they have washed their hands. Wish all that covered, we then jumped right into making the batter. I had the students pair up and work in twos.

Step by step I walked them through mixing the dry ingredients together, then the wet ingredients, and then everything combined. In the second hour we started cooking. Kids, gas stoves and scolding hot oil don’t mix, and so it was my Taiwanese co-teacher and I that did the cooking. All went well and there was an array of toppings for the kids to choose from: bananas, peach slices, pineapple slices, cream, honey, butter, chocolate chips, and peanut butter.

I had originally planned to make "American Pancakes" (of the thicker and smaller style), but we were quite short on baking powder and so, not expecting the batter to rise very much in the pan, I ended up choosing to make Dutch style pancakes which are larger, flatter and rolled (or folded) before eating.

It was pretty torturous standing in front of the stove cooking pancake after pancake, only to see them taken away, smothered in delicious toppings and then gorged on by hungry and eager kids. Very luckily, I was allowed to take home the left over batter and toppings. So Amanda and I will be having some homemade dessert later tonight.

The students really enjoyed making the pancakes, but even more so enjoyed eating them. I certainly wouldn’t mind doing another class where I had to teach them how to cook something else. Enchiladas, next time, perhaps.

Photo from Flickr user Gilmoth

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chinese Class!

Boje and I are making it official... by formally studying Chinese at Feng Chia University in Taichung. We go to school at 8 am every weekday morning (ughhhhhnnnn) then go home for lunch, then head off to work until late at night. If you notice a slightly haunted look in my eyes in any of our photos for the next three months, that's why!

We don't qualify for Level 1, so we're actually in Level 0. We're currently learning the phonetic alphabet (bopomofo) and how to read our own Chinese names. My name is very easy to identify and write, and I've been told that "" is pretty much the "Smith" of family names in Taiwan, so I'm lucky. Boj, on the other hand, has his work cut out for him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Taiwanese Wedding

This weekend, Boje and I had the privilege of attending one of my co-teachers’ weddings at a beautiful restaurant in Taichung. This wedding wasn’t strictly traditional, but it did incorporate a lot of important Taiwanese traditions and had marked differences from the Western weddings I’ve attended. For one thing, the wedding ceremony takes place days or weeks before the banquet and is an intimate affair. The banquet is the part everyone’s invited to.

When you arrive, you sign the guest book and hand your red envelope (filled with cash) to people whose specific task is to receive and count the money for the couple. No anonymity, either! You are meant to write your (Chinese) name on the envelope. There are certain amounts that are appropriate for whatever level your relationship is at with the bride and groom, and you’re not supposed to give too much or too little. You’re also not supposed to choose a number ending in odd hundreds, like 100, 300, etc, and no numbers including a four, please! “Four” and “Death” sound the same in Chinese. After consultations with Taiwanese friends, Boje and I settled on what we were told was a suitable amount. Handing over the envelope was still embarrassing though, as I had painstakingly printed my Chinese name on it with a black marker. It was very wobbly and I’m sure that even my littlest students would have laughed to see my horribly lopsided attempt.

Once you’re inside the dining room, life’s good. There were three tables reserved for the bride’s colleagues, and my supervisor very kindly guided us to an appropriate table with Chinese signage. We sat with Taiwanese and American friends at the table and it was so lovely to take a look around the venue. The tables were Chinese-style banquet tables - round, with gigantic “lazy Susans” in the centre of each. When we were seated, the first course was already on the table. They were little round balls of cooked sweet dough, sort of dumpling-esque, sprinkled with raisins and crushed peanuts. They reminded me of the QQ balls we ate with Stanley and Vicky in Kaohsiung. One of my friends explained that wedding courses all have special significance, and that this one carries a wish for hundreds of sons and thousands of grandsons - though the way she phrased it was much more eloquent.

Once the bride and groom entered the building (and it was with a splash), food started coming out like crazy. There were only six of us at a table for ten, and each table was served a huge portion of every course. We had a sashimi boat, a king crab served on a pile of sauteed onions, a platter of tender, falling-off-the-bone lamb in a spicy sauce, amazing spicy scallops with pea pods, as well as mushroom and chicken soup. The chicken soup was impressive in that it was a delicious broth filled with plenty of mushrooms as well as an entire chicken. You had to use the ladle to break off some chicken for yourself, and I’m pretty sure I spotted a beak. You know you’re at a good party when every table has its own chicken and crab! After the chicken soup, there was also a pork, clam, and vegetable soup, a steamed fish, and a big pile of prawns. We had another course that I believe was abalone, a popular dish for weddings in Taiwan, but the Taiwanese girls at our table weren’t sure what to call them in English so that goes unconfirmed. For dessert, we had delicious moist cupcakes with beautiful fruit toppings and small, individual cartons of Haagen Daaz. All of us there as the bride’s colleagues (and our partners) were given special little jars of honey as favors in little Tiffany-blue boxes. Remind me to go to weddings more often!

While all the courses were coming out, there was a full-on spectacle going on with the bride and groom. Their wedding had a professional host, photographers, videographers, makeup and hair people, and multiple dress changes. She came out in a gorgeous white gown and tiara, then changed into a pink number, and then bright orange. It’s amazing to see a coworker who you see every day in their company t-shirt transform into a princess with professionals dabbing her makeup between toasts. She and her husband spent most of the wedding walking around handing out sweets, toasting guests, and smiling nonstop while surrounded by their professional entourage. It was like being at a red carpet event.

As we walked out of the wedding (only about two and a half hours after we arrived), we were given a massive box of wedding cookies. The cookies are a big assortment of flavoured shortbreads, chocolates, and baked egg rolls. Delicious!

My verdict on Taiwanese weddings? Always accept an invitation. You will love it. It was worth every moment of panic I had trying to find an appropriate outfit my size in Asia (even though it meant shopping at places called “Big Shoes for Ladies”). It was a great party, and easily one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Our camera died at the beginning of the event, but I’m going to ask our friends and try to compile some photos of some of the impressive dishes!

A Taiwanese wedding appetizer. QQ Balls with raisins and shaved peanuts.
Lamb in the foreground and king crab in the background.
Brett & Amanda

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Thanksgiving in Taichung

So we kind of missed the boat on Canadian Thanksgiving, but we were lucky to have been able to take advantage of American Thanksgiving’s November date and as such we signed up to get our fill of ham and turkey at an establishment that is quickly becoming one of our favorite eat-outs. So much so that we are now greeted by the waitresses with a large grin and a “hello again”.

Thanksgiving dinner at Early Bird in Taichung... delicious!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Taylor comes to Taichung

This past weekend, our friend Taylor (a friendly, Taipei-dwelling Texan) came down for a quick visit and his first expedition out of the city into the rest of the island. We met him at training back in August, and it was so nice to see him again on Saturday and catch up over some dinner and Carslberg! After our very early dinner, we went out with some other teachers to a place in our neighbourhood called LM Relax, home of the world's prettiest restaurant decor. It was also home to some of the world's prettiest/tastiest alcoholic milkshakes. I'm definitely going back for dinner sometime! After drinks at LM Relax, Taylor headed out with another friend from training to a club, and I went home to promptly pass out after a full day of teaching and a full night of eating.

The next morning, we had pancakes at Early Bird - an awesome experience for any foreigner missing home. Once we'd all had our fill of carbs and coffee, we walked over to the Taiwan's National Museum of Natural Science where Boje and I had our whole Silk Road debacle back in September. For $250, we decided to try again. The special exhibit on the books this time? "Quest for Immortality - The Hidden Treasure of Ancient Egypt". We weren't allowed to take photos inside the exhibit, but we did have a good time checking everything out. The collection was thoughtfully curated, and despite the very heavy crowds we felt comfortable milling around. There were multiple human mummies, as well as several different species of mummified animals! It was really cool, especially after having recently read this BBC article about how ancient Egyptians were mummifying certain animals to the point of endangerment and extinction! I highly recommend this exhibit! You still have plenty of time to go, as it will be here until February 12.

Once we'd finished the exhibit we wandered around the grounds. The NMNS is a huge facility adjoining Taichung's botanical garden. It's a really cool park with lots of tree-shaded trails and big, open, green spaces. There were people there doing tai-chi, meditating, napping, and playing with their kids.

Brett took Taylor back to the HSR station that evening, and I must say it was lovely having him. I'm always happiest when there's someone staying in the guest room, so drop by any time!

Amanda and Taylor in front of the Taichung canal.
Taylor in front of the Taiwan National Museum of Natural Science. Say that three times fast!
Taylor riding a sidewalk dinosaur!
When cropped close in... Taylor riding... the sidewalk. Weird.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crabby Birthday

Last weekend, our Canadian friend who lives a short train ride away in Taichung County, came into town to spend Saturday and Sunday with us. We went out Saturday night in a semi-celebration of my birthday with a few other friends. We had amazing Mediterranean food at Uzo once again and then went crab fishing!

Let me explain... In Taiwan, there are many indoor venues with big salt water pools that are used for recreational prawn and crab fishing. The particular place we chose (which is walking distance from our apartment) happened to have crab on the menu. You pay either $500 per hour or $1000 for 3 hours and receive a pink slip of paper, then a nice English-speaking girl took us poolside to show us how to bait our hooks with pieces of raw prawn. Staff were throwing live crabs into the pool, old Taiwanese men were chain smoking everywhere, and tiny children were up way past their bedtime. It was chaotic, but in the best possible way. We gingerly balanced my birthday gifts (a big chocolate cake and a bottle of wine!) on a plastic lawn chair and got down to business!

I was seated at the end of our little group and had clearly missed the memo on effective crab fishing techniques, so a chain-smoking local man with full sleeve tattoos sitting to my right took it upon himself to teach me. Using his limited English and my limited Chinese, it was agreed that I should balance my fishing pole on the edge of the pool. Occasionally I'd get a sharp slap on the arm from my mentor, which meant "1, 2, 3, now!" I was also yelled at twice to "WATCH!" Catching crabs is tricky! (Shhh.) They were biting a lot and you could pull them up to the water's edge, but it was so hard swinging them up and into your bucket! Then, out of nowhere, I caught one! It was big, too! Getting it into the bucket was scary - naturally, I supervised as my friends and the Taiwanese man took over for that part.

Then we had a crab in our bucket... what now? It actually made me a little sad. The crab looked scared and was so defensive and upset. They're seriously the tanks of the underwater world. Delicious, tender tanks. Because there were five of us and only one crab, the proprietor's English-speaking daughter suggested we have it in miso soup. We were seated at a table by the water's edge and waited as they cooked our catch of the day. It was pretty awesome to eat delicious crab miso soup before heading back out into the night. Best. Birthday. Ever. Brett will post pictures when he's more organized.

Crab Fishing in Taichung
The Crab Fishing Pool
The photographer had steady hands, everything else was moving.

Mesmerized by the bubbling soup.

The one that almost got away.
Fun Song Bar! at Tiger Bowling.

Bills, bills, bills

When we get bills in the mail, we take them to work for a coworker to assure us that they're bills we should open rather than personal correspondence for our landlord, then we pay them as soon as possible at our local 7-11. This month, our cable and internet bills came up. I don't know if this is a standard Taiwanese contract or if our company is unusual or what, but basically we pay in advance for three months of service. We had a pretty confusing snag in the first week of November. We don't get paid by our branches until the 7th of the month, so our November bills were in a stack waiting to go when we were paid. The 7th is also when our internet happened to shut off.

The next day, I paid our whole pile of bills not really knowing what they were, but with the understanding that one of them was from our cable/internet company. The same day, the company contacted our landlord who lives in Japan to say her internet had been cut off, so she contacted Brett's Taiwanese colleague who asked him why we hadn't yet paid it. We thought we had!

Two days later, on Thursday, what do we find in the mailbox but a bill from our cable/internet company, this time for a much larger amount. It also said it was due to be paid on Monday, November 7! But it arrived on the 10th! We were never given a key to our mailbox by our landlord, so it just stays permanently unlocked. It's possible our mail was given to the wrong person who then let it sit on their dining room table for two weeks before thinking to put it in our mailbox. I don't know. All I know is it's been paid, and a week later we still have no internet in our apartment. Fortunately, we learned today that there's wifi in our building's lobby! Hooray!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Scooter Milestone!

Today Boje took on his first scooter passenger - me! He picked me up from work (grumble Saturday mornings grumble) and scooted me to lunch all under the watchful eye of our more experienced scooter-driving friend. I do love planning for contingencies. Riding with Boje has opened a whole new world of dinner possibilities, and when Boje’s more comfortable we’ll be able to head out of town at our leisure! Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll capture and post pictures soon.

In other news, for those of you we haven’t caught up with lately, teaching is going really well! We’re both a lot more comfortable with our curriculums and we’ve been getting to know some of our students and coworkers really well. It’s Saturday night, we have nowhere to be in the morning, and our bellies are full of pasta and a familiar wine we’d been missing from back home. All is well in Taichung.

Friday, November 4, 2011

One Thousand Meters Up

I thought I would add a short post of my own to describe my paragliding experience in Puli. We were told that the first person of our group to go should be one of the lightest because the thermals would only just be kicking up and hence if you have too much weight then you will end up at the bottom of the mountain needing to be picked up and driven back up the hill.

The second person to go should be one of the biggest because if the sun is out then the thermals will quickly pick up and you actually want your total weight (instructor and passenger) to be as heavier. I qualified as the candidate for this task and so was second of our group to take to the skies. I’m not sure if Yuri (our instructor) is permanently elated when he is in the sky, but he suggested that the conditions were perfect and that we were very lucky. At one point an altitude meter that beeped at different rates depending on the speed of your ascent sounded like the electrocardiogram of a rabbit while mating. Yuri told me that we were climbing at more than 3 meters/second and he was very excited about this.

At our highest we were more than 1,600 meters above sea level and just over 1,000 meters above where we had launched. Upon reaching our zenith we were amongst the “solos”, as Yuri called them, and there was only one para-glider in the sky higher than us.

On our way back down Yuri asked if I wanted to try going into a descending spin as I could see other para-gliders performing. Naturally I answered with the affirmative. The g-forces on the way down were incredible and I very much imagined my face to look like that of a dog with its head out of a car window covered in slobber that is spraying into the wind. I sincerely hope I didn’t slobber on Yuri!

We shot long on our first landing attempt and so had to circle around and gain back some altitude, but then we successfully landed on our second attempt.

It was an amazing amazing experience and I can definitely see myself return again while we are in Taiwan.

Amanda took this picture of me during my climb. Yuri and I were in the yellow-green-chute.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Paragliding in Puli

This weekend, to celebrate our friend’s 30th birthday, we went on a camping and paragliding trip to Puli, a town (pop. 86,000) about an hour’s bus ride into the mountains from Taichung City. Boje and I met at my branch on Saturday afternoon after I’d finished teaching for the day, then took a cab to the Nantou Bus Company counter at Taichung City Station (台中干城站). It was the same bus company that took us to Sun Moon Lake, and it was only NT$125 per person (one way) out to Puli. We were dropped off at Nantou Bus’ Puli terminal and took a taxi up a winding mountain road to the campground where we’d be flying from the next day.

The campground was so lovely and located in a large clearing on the mountainside. There was a huge patio with a sort of outdoor kitchen/snack shack where our group of 10 was served an all-you-can-eat BBQ feast under the stars. We had chicken steak (ji pai), chicken wings, chicken butts (or the “Parson’s nose”, as Boje calls it), chicken skin, steamed vegetables with ginger, and a tofu/fish ball soup. Boje and I also had some skewered BBQ chicken hearts. The verdict: chewy, and tasting slightly of blood.

Some of the people we were with were camping in tents there for the night, but we paid an extra NT$200 per person to share a cute cabin with three other people about 20 minutes away. We all celebrated our friend’s birthday well into the night, and a little while after midnight the five of us staying in the cabin decided to call a cab. Turns out no local drivers drivers wanted to come up dark switchbacks in the middle of the night, so the lady running the kitchen drove three of us down the mountain while my friend and another girl followed behind us on a scooter. I reached the bottom with Boje and the birthday boy, but the girls had experienced some scooter engine trouble and were delayed getting down. Once the five of us had all met up at a beautiful park at the bottom of the road, we made our way to a 7/11 (Taiwan’s 24-hour cab stand) and called a taxi. The driver seemed to know where to go (based on gesturing, our yammering in English and his banter in Chinese, and lots of pointing at a map of the area) so we headed out. The taxi driver missed a turn and so we were flagged down by the girls. A Taiwanese man at a nearby gas station was consulted for a second opinion, and after much shouting (not in anger, but in the tired, confused way of people trying to overcome a severe language barrier) we were back on the road. There were several more false starts, but we finally made it to our destination at around 2 in the morning. In typical Taiwanese fashion, rather than be a jerk and charge us extra for the hassle, the cab driver halved our previously agreed fare AND gave us his card so we could call him in the morning, because I’m reasonably sure he thought no other taxi driver in Puli would know how to find us again. We collapsed into our tiny cabin and all passed out promptly to the sound of chirping crickets, croaking frogs, and snoring boyfriends.

In the morning we (slowly) got up and headed back up to the campsite to meet up with the rest of our party who’d stayed in tents. Around 11, an awesome South African paragliding pilot named Yuri as well as some Taiwanese pilots he knew showed up and we started flying!

Boje was the second in our group to go and I was so terrified/impressed the whole time he was up there. He entrusted me with the “big lens” so I was able to get some photos. Every time the pilot brought him down near us, the whole group on the ground could see Boje’s huge grin. I had a momentary panic attack at one point, though, when the pilot was trying to land the chute and we heard him yell “Shit!” as the parachute continued down the mountain. He'd just missed the landing, which seemed like a pretty normal situation all day as the winds picked up. All was well, and they landed gently on the following circle. My own trip was less successful. It wasn’t scary at all - you feel completely safe up there. The guy who organized the trip for us aptly described the experience as “like sitting in a big glove in the sky”. My only problem was the crippling motion sickness. I made one circle and was feeling okay, but about halfway around the next lap I exclaimed “Bu hao! Bu hao!” (No good!) and insisted with the few Chinese words I could muster that we needed to land. Once I was safely on the ground I still felt queasy for about an hour.

After everyone had flown, about half of us headed back to Taichung on the Nantou bus, and the other half took scooters. Those of us on the bus took a cab to an amazing restaurant in town called Uzo Bar and Grill. Wow. I hadn’t had a chicken gyro wrap like that in a long time. None of us had eaten since breakfast, and we all devoured our wraps, burgers, pizza, desserts, and cold drinks. It was the perfect ending to an awesome weekend. Boje absolutely loved paragliding, and is already thinking about when we’ll be able to go again. Sounds nice, dear - enjoy your flight. I’ll be the speck on the ground kneeling over a bucket.

For prospective paragliders:

If you'd like to try paragliding in Puli, contact Steve or Yuri from Step Out in Taiwan. They're on Facebook and offer a bunch of different scooter tours and packages on their website. They did all the bookings and arranged everything with the cooks at the campground as well as told us exactly where to go, so we had an awesome overnight stay and very safe paragliding experience for under NT$4000 per person (including meals and bus fares).

The cabin where we stayed the night
Waiting for take-off
Just after take-off
Puli in the background
Yuri having some fun
From below
Brett & Yuri
Failed landing attempt
Amanda waiting her turn
"What have I got myself into!?!?"
"I can do this... just don't barf!"
Amanda about to be hurled off the side of a mountain
Amanda after take-off
Amanda paragliding
Amanda paragliding
Back on the ground and thankful to be alive!
The launch area
Paragliding in Puli
Brett & Amanda

Friday, October 28, 2011

Scooter Acquired!

The last couple weeks I’ve been gently “encouraged” on a number of occasions to post about our acquisition of a scooter. I thought that I would post something to the blog very quickly before Amanda and I head off to Puli (埔里鎮) this afternoon where we will be staying the night (more to come later). 

One of Amanda’s co-teachers kindly recommended a shop that they have a relationship with and trust. Our first visit was just to confirm what we were looking for (a 125cc scooter). Our second visit was for me to take it for a test drive (once around the block). The third and final visit was for me to pick up the scooter! 

When I went to pick up the scooter I was helped by a young mechanic whose name I first thought was Fun Li, but after he repeated his name a few times I realized he was given me his English name which was Funky. The shop took care of all the paperwork, including the scooter insurance, transferring the scooter license, and having my chop made which was required for stamping certain paperwork. A chop is a stamp that bares your Chinese name, used for stamping important documents. It is essentially the equivalent of the western signature concept. 

When it came to driving the scooter away I had a little more trouble... turning it on. At this point the shop owner and funky realized that I perhaps needed a very thorough scooter orientation (and it was probably for the best). After being shown how to start up the scooter, how to turn on/off the lights, indicators, high beams, and where to put the gas, it was time to leave. 

The scooter is a 1993 125cc Kymco. It has new brakes and runs very smoothly. All for the modest price of $13,000 NTD (~$430 CAD). 

I’ve really enjoyed being able to ride to and from work every day and I’ve already discovered so many things close to home that I never knew existed. Walking on covered sidewalks under tall buildings it is amazing how much you can miss without realizing. The new perspective of being in the road opens up a lot to be discovered. 

I haven’t taken a picture of the scooter yet. I will try to take a picture at some point next week and will then update the post. 

This weekend Amanda and I are heading to Puli and will spend the night there to celebrate a friends thirtieth birthday. We are planning to para-sail in Puli, so hopefully there is plenty of good things to blog about when we return. 

November is going to be a very busy month for both Amanda and I. We both have a new speech and writing class that runs during the month which will be a lot of work. I also have a new class starting on Monday and so I’m looking at a 20-30% increase in my workload for this month. It will carry us very quickly through to December at which point I’m sure Amanda and I will be about ready to start considering professional Mandarin lessons. 

I’ll finish the post here. There’s plenty for me to do before we head out to Puli this afternoon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

10/10 at Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) with the Bojes!


Monday we woke up to Taiwan’s 100th birthday! (See Boje’s previous post for a more detailed explanation). We were up way earlier than usual to head out to Sun Moon Lake (日月潭). 

Getting there went pretty smoothly thanks to Boje’s habit of printing off large, bold directions in English, Mandarin, and Pinyin. We piled into a cab with his parents and were taken to the main bus station in town (ie: a street full of small, storefront bus terminals). We couldn’t find our bus counter at first (for the Nantou bus company’s “Sun Moon Lake Shuttle”) but a quick stop at a hotel desk to declare “Wǒ men yào dào Rìyuètán” (“We want to go to Sun Moon Lake!”) soon had us pointed in the right direction. We bought round trip tickets for the shuttle which cost approximately NT$350 per person. The trip was two hours with several stops along the way, including Taichung HSR and Taichung Main Station for people wanting to embark from different parts of town.

We were dropped off in front of the Sun Moon Lake visitors’ centre, and after gathering some maps and information we headed down to Shuishe Pier to buy tickets for the ferry shuttle. This cost NT$300 per person for a hop-on-hop-off adult fare. The pier and the boats were rocking a lot from all the high-speed ferry traffic on the lake, so if you’re weak of stomach like me I’d suggest taking something. I was fine, but I was also still doped up on the nausea-suppressant I’d taken for the bus ride. We were given a lengthy explanation - in Mandarin - of the history of the area during the boat ride, and we rode two stops over to the base of the Sun Moon Lake gondola.

The Cien Pagoda, as seen from Sun Moon Lake: "The Ci En Pagoda was built by the late President Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother. It was completed in April 1971 and sits on the 954 meter-high Shabalan Mountain."

You can find more info on Sun Moon Lake from the official government website, click here.

There was a snack street and a cluster of small souvenir shops, restaurants and inns adjacent to the pier at this stop, so we decided to have lunch at a restaurant advertising “President’s fish”, and with large tables designed for family-style shared dishes. They had a small English menu and it didn’t take us long to settle on a sweet-and-sour fish, Taiwanese-style BBQ chicken, a shrimp and vegetable omelet, and pork fried rice with beer and apple cider. What we weren’t told when we ordered pork fried rice “for four people” was that they’d be bringing us four family-size portions of fried rice. We all had a good laugh about the waiter being so worried about us accidentally ordering too much beer (as the bottles turned out to be quite large), but not thinking to warn us to at least halve our rice order. The food was all very tasty and satisfying, and everything was piled with vegetables. I loved it!

With full stomachs we waddled (a common theme that weekend) down a walking path towards the gondola station. It was a really beautiful wooden walkway bordered with trees and flowers with the lake on one side and a mountain face on the other! There were also a few signs along the way that explained some of the traditional fishing methods still used on Sun Moon Lake, like the artificial “floating islands” of plants whose roots are used to attract fish, and “four handed” nets that are left in the water for prolonged periods, then slowly hoisted up by their four corners.

The gondola station was pretty quiet for a holiday. Brett and his dad went up to the second floor to buy the tickets (NT$250 per person - more if you wanted entry to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village theme park) and then came back downstairs so we could walk up a winding queue. There was only a brief wait at the top, and because of the low traffic the four of us had an eight-seat cable car all to ourselves. The ride was very smooth and enjoyable, and the expanse of the lake was an impressive sight as we glided over huge and ancient trees.

After the cable ride (and return trip) we got back on the ferry to Shuishe Pier and caught the bus home. Sun Moon Lake is very beautiful and I think we could go back several times before we’d have seen everything we wanted to. It was also great to enjoy some cool weather for once. It was drizzling rain a little bit when we arrived in the morning, but this tapered off almost immediately and we were left with a cool, fresh day. The climate felt a lot like a moderately warm summer day in Alberta.

After the two-hour bus ride home, we walked a block or so to Taichung Park where they were wrapping up some National Day celebrations. We wandered around the paths for a while, savouring the cool air of the park. We caught a cab home to rest for a bit, before heading back out the door to the Ble d’Or, a western restaurant specializing in beer and European cuisine (with plenty of Taiwanese options on the menu as well!) It was nice to share some very cheesy pizza and cold drinks in celebration of both Taiwan’s centennial and Canadian Thanksgiving! We were all very tired after dinner and headed straight to bed.

In the morning, Brett’s parents packed up to go and we saw them into a cab to the HSR so they could head to the airport in Taoyuan. We missed them as soon as the taxi pulled away, and the visit was far too short, but it was very nice to have some visitors from home to remind us that the people we miss are still there and not just pixelated images on our Skype interface! We’re really happy to have had Brett’s parents here and would like to remind everyone that our door is always open to family and friends who want a private tour of Taiwan!

Stay tuned for Brett’s post about buying our scooter!

Under the watchful eye of the paparazzi
Waiting for the bus to Sun Moon Lake
Brett, G & D overlooking Sun Moon Lake
A little more than we had been expecting
I'm no expert on ornithology, but I'm pretty sure this is a bird.
Mom & Dad in the Gondola at Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake (日月潭)
Taichung Park