Saturday, July 7, 2012

Scooters for sale!

So we were 2 months away from leaving Taiwan, and it came time for us to start advertising our scooters for sale.

I was very saddened by the prospect of having to part with Excalibur and the Juggernaut. They had both served Amanda and I well. We’d had a mix of great adventures and terrifying near misses on both scooters. Nevertheless, Amanda and I would both miss the freedom, independence and convenience that they provided us while we were in Taiwan.

When we first arrived, friends advised us to “get a scooter as soon as you can, it opens up the city and makes life so much more enjoyable.” They were absolutely right, and I would absolutely pass on the same advice to anyone new to the Island.

As it happened, we ended up selling the Juggernaut to an ESL teacher that had been in Taiwan for a while and was looking to upgrade. I hope he’s still enjoying it!

Excalibur met a less fortunate ending. I did find an ESL teacher that was new to Taiwan and wanted to buy the bike, but unfortunately when I went to the motor vehicle bureau to get the bike transferred into her name, it did not pass some kind of inspection. The inspector tried to communicate with me through a series of hand gestures, grunts and repeating the words “light, no good, must change”. I tried exchanging hand gestures, grunts and showing him that the headlight was in perfect working order, but didn’t seem to have any success getting my point across, or understanding the point he was trying to make. I think maybe it was the wrong type of headlight for that bike. Transfer of title unsuccessful, I ended up having to give the scooter back to the shop from which I bought it and I pretty much just got scrap value for it. More than likely the whole issue of it not passing the inspection as well it only getting scrap value from the bike shop had to do with us having been in an accident where a taxi t-boned us by doing a u-turn in the middle of the road and quite badly damaging the scooter. Given that we came out of that incident unscathed, I’m not too bitter that the only consequence was us losing out a few thousand NTD when it came time to get rid of the bike.

Excalibur: Rest in peace. She might not have had a very high top speed, but swift and nimble, she could get going off the stop line with one heck of a kick! 
The Juggernaut: Strong and sturdy. Many an adventure had we t'gether. May ye serve well your new master and carry them safe t'wherever tis they go.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fó Guāng Shān 佛光山

It took a couple buses to get to Fó Guāng Shān from Kaohsiung, but it was well, well, well worth the trip. We would absolutely recommend that anyone on a trip to Kaohsiung tries to make time to get out and visit FGS.

While some people are appalled by the notion of referencing the web information source, Wikipedia, “since it is not a peer reviewed credible source of information”, but in this case I have absolutely no qualms doing so… nah nah na nah nah!

So, according to Wikipedia:
"Fo Guang Shan (Chinese: 佛光山; pinyin: Fóguāngshān; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Hu̍t-kong-san; literally "Buddha's Light Mountain") is an international Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monastic order based in the Republic of China (Taiwan), and one of the largest Buddhist organizations. The headquarters of Fo Guang Shan, located in Kaohsiung, is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. The organization itself is also one of the largest charity organizations in Taiwan. The order also calls itself the International Buddhist Progress Society. 
Founded in 1967 by Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the order promotes Humanistic Buddhism, a modern Chinese Buddhist thought developed through the 20th Century and made popular by this and other modern Chinese Buddhist orders. Humanistic Buddhism aims to make Buddhism relevant in the world and in people's lives and hearts. While Hsing Yun is a Dharma heir in the Linji Chan (Chinese: 臨濟宗; pinyin: Línjìzōng) school, his stated position within Fo Guang Shan is that it is an "amalgam of all Eight Schools of Chinese Buddhism" (his stated position within Fo Guang Shan is that it is an "amalgam of all Eight Schools of Chinese Buddhism" (八宗兼弘), including but not limited to Chan. In this sense, it is a monastic order, and not a doctrinal school of thought per se. This is the case for much of Chinese Buddhism, as the lineage of the founder or Abbot does not necessarily dictate the thought or practices of members of the monastery limited to Chan. In this sense, it is a monastic order, and not a doctrinal school of thought per se. This is the case for much of Chinese Buddhism, as the lineage of the founder or Abbot does not necessarily dictate the thought or practices of members of the monastery."

Do you have to appreciate Chinese Mahayana Buddhism in order to appreciate Fó Guāng Shān? No. It is a spectacular site, in a spectacular setting, with a well laid out Cultural Center that has a lot of interesting information - and with good English translations.

Amanda and I both agree that we would like to go back to FGS one day for a second visit and we would likely take a full day so that we can spend ample time between the Monastery and the Temple.

We didn’t get to the Monastery and in some portions of the Temple you aren’t allowed to take pictures. Some of the most spectacular architecture and decor that we saw in Taiwan was in the temple at FGS.

If you get a chance to go, take it!

Fo Guang Shan Temple
Fo Guang Shan Temple
Fo Guang Shan Temple
Statues at Fo Guang Shan Temple
Wooden carving inside Fo Guang Shan Temple
Depiction of Hell inside Fo Guang Shan Temple
Depiction of Heaven inside Fo Guang Shan Temple
We had lunch with Milton & Jenny at Fo Guang Shan. Being a Buddhist site, naturally the lunch options were all vegetarian.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Canada Day Weekend in Kaohsiung

Did we ever mention how much we like Kaohsiung. Well we do. We like it a lot. So just one week after Dragon Boat Festival, we were back again.

On the Saturday, we visited Kaohsiung’s Cultural Center in Lingya District with our friends Milton & Jenny. It was a beautiful day, and so we also enjoyed a nice walk around the surrounding park.

That evening, Milton & Jenny recommended we take a look around the Dadong Arts Center (大東藝術中心) in Fengshan District. There was some kind of free live music performance while we were there, for which a crowd had gathered. The building architecture and lighting were also very unique and made the visit worthwhile. Definitely best visited in the early evening so as to see the building lit up at night.

After Dadong Arts Center, we hopped on the MRT, had a quick stop at Formosa Boulevard Station to take some pictures of the Dome of Light. Then it was on to Aozidi Forest Park, where we walked to Foster Hewitt’s Pub to meet our friends Stanley & Vicky.

The following day, we rose early and joined Milton & Jenny on a trip to Fó Guāng Shān Temple (佛光山寺). Fó Guāng Shān is an amazing place and worthy of a post dedicated to itself, stay tuned.

Kaohsiung's Cultural Center
Dadong Arts Center
Dadong Arts Center
Dadong Arts Center
Formosa Boulevard
Formosa Boulevard
Aozidi Forest Park Entrance to MRT Station

Friday, June 29, 2012

Catching Up

So our last blog post was about our visit to Kaohsiung for Dragon Boat Festival and we posted it with the date June 28th, 2012.

The date today is December 25th, 2013 (despite the blog post time stamp of June 29th, 2012).

Yes, we are a little behind on our blog posts, but we are also resolved to complete our blog and share the stories and photos from our last two months in Taiwan.

July & August was our busiest, most frantic, but also possibly most enjoyable time we spent in Taiwan. We had two visits from Canadian friends, lots of adventures exploring parts of Isla Formosa still unseen to us, and the “frantic” part relates to us tying up all our affairs and trying to ready ourselves for returning to life in Canada. Stories all to come.

Fyi, I’ll be posting our blog entries with date stamps that approximate when the pictures were taken and when the stories happened. Hence, don’t be confused if you see a number of “new” blog entries popping up with dates stamps from 2012!!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dragon Boat Festival 2012 高雄市龍舟賽

While we were living in Kaohsiung in 2011, before we had started teaching, we were able to check out the annual Dragon Boat Festival at the Love River. We both really enjoyed the experience and blogged all about it... here. So naturally we didn’t have to think twice about whether we should return to KH for the 2012 festival.

As soon as we finished teaching on Friday evening, we caught the HSR from Taichung to KH and met up with our friends, Stanley & Vicky. None of us having yet eaten, we agreed to go to a streetside seafood restaurant for a late night dinner. As is customary when we eat with Stanley and Vicky... there was so much food! We had bittermelon with salty duck egg, fried shrimp with greens, clams, some kind of white fish in a miso sauce, a large bowl of soup, a variety of vegetable dishes and... deep fried fish intestines! I tried the intestines and while I will say they weren’t bad, I must confess, they aren’t my favorite. After dinner, Stanley & Vicky took us to a nearby tea shop where we tried iced green tea with a salted heavy whipped cream and matcha powder garnish.

The following day, I naturally insisted that we had to go to Lao Song Beef Noodles for lunch - one of my favorite beef noodles restaurants in all of Taiwan. After we had eaten, we went for a walk along the Love River and watched some of the Dragon Boat races. Then meeting up with Stanley, he took us to a small cafe where we enjoyed some cold drinks, pastries and croissants, covered with powdered sugar and cream. We then went for a short walk through Central Park where we admired some turtles, fed some ducks, and did a little waddling around ourselves, after all the food we had eaten.

Amanda and I then returned to our hostel (Harbor 60) to freshen up before heading back out to meet Milton and Jenny for a seafood dinner not far from Sizihwan MRT station. For dinner, we had a kind of seafood porridge - a mixture of soup, rice, shrimp and fish, as well as a Taiwanese specialty - oyster omelette. After dinner, the four of us went for a walk at the Love Pier and along the Love River, where we caught the end of the Dragon Boat Races. Not yet done for the evening, Milton & Jenny took us to an all-day Chinese breakfast shop where we sampled a very thick Chinese soy bean milk beverage, a peanut milk beverage, and a kind of Chinese breakfast sandwich (shao bing you tiao) that had you tiao (a type of fried bread) on the inside and then baked-layered-flakey bread on the outside that was covered in sesame seeds. Not something to eat if you are watching your cholesterol, but certainly delicious!!!

If you think our night was done there, you’re sorely mistaken. We later met up again with Stanley and Vicky who also wanted to feed us some late night snacks, and so we ended the evening drinking more tea, eating more night market snacks and watching horror movies at Vicky’s house.

Sunday, our last day in KH, was little different than the rest of our weekend had been... focused on food. Stanley took us to King’s Uen-Jou Wonton for lunch where we had what I can confidently say are the best wontons I’ve ever tasted in my life. Thereafter, saying farewell to Stanley over some afternoon tea and cake at a nice little cafe just off Wufu Rd. close to Yanchengpu MRT station.

It was really nice to catch up with our friends in KH. Even though we came to watch the Dragon Boat races, much of our time revolved around food and restaurants, which we were becoming accustomed in KH to at this point. Not that we’re complaining. We love trying new foods in Taiwan, all in the good company and guidance of our friends.

Seafood Dinner with Stanley & Vicky
Lao Song Beef Noodles Shop - Always Delicious!
Crowds gather for the Dragon Boat Races at the Love River
2012 Kaohsiung Dragon Boat Races 高雄市龍舟賽
Kaohsiung Film Archives
Generic Caption
Stanley & Amanda with some pastries for an afternoon snack
Undoubtedly the ugliest duck we have ever seen
Seafood dinner with Milton & Jenny
Oyster Omelette - Very famous in Taiwan
Brett, Amanda, Jenny & Milton at the Love Pier
The Last Dragon Boat Race of 2012
The Best Wontons... ever!
Last snack of the weekend, at a teahouse with Stanley

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

彭博特 - 林曼俐

On one of our recent trips to Kaohsiung, Amanda and I were given a very special gift by our friends Stanley and Vicky - a pair of Swarovski pens that had been engraved with our Chinese names Péng Bó Tè 彭博特 and Lín Màn Lì 林曼俐. We are so grateful for the beautiful gift. It is one of many special memories we have of our time in Taiwan, memories we will never forget.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tropical Storm Talim

When Amanda and I were told by our English School that they would offer us both contracts, we were faced with the daunting task of listing our top three preferences for where we would like to teach. We were provided with a list of 14 locations in Taiwan along with a short blurb about each. We chose Taichung as one of our top three preferences partly because the accompanying blurb indicated that Taichung has great weather, and is not too hot and not too cold. We also learnt that because Taichung is somewhat surrounded by mountains to the north, south and east of the city, it is also much more sheltered from Typhoons than other locations in Taiwan. 

Because Typhoons most commonly approach Taiwan from the east of the island, this last fact meant that for the most part, during our time in Taiwan, when a national typhoon day was declared and school was canceled, the weather in Taichung was uneventful if anything. Tropical Storm Talim, unlike all the other tropical depressions we experienced while we were in Taiwan, approached the island from the west, and came right up along the Taiwan Strait, nestling itself in between Taiwan and mainland China. It was a doozie of a tropical storm. Windows were writhing and rattling in their frames, rain was pounding the pavement, and trees were bowing and bending to the wind. 

At one point, the wind and rain calmed enough that I was able to briefly go up to the building roof with camera and tripod in hand and take a few photos. The picture below is actually a composite of three different pictures, one underexposed, one exposed correctly, and one overexposed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Visit from Denton and Liz

This past weekend we had the pleasure of having our friend Denton come to visit along with his girlfriend, Liz, who was in turn visiting Denton from Canada. Denton was part of our initial training group back in August 2011 when we first started teaching. He ended up working at a branch in a city called Fengyuan (豐原), not far from Taichung City and we had met up with him on a number of occasions and had heard all about Liz who was back in Canada.  

It was really nice to spend the weekend with Denton and Liz. We hope that we will be able to visit them in the east of Canada one day, or have them come and visit us in the West.

On the Sunday, we all went to one of our favorite restaurants: Hong Kong Manual Style Dessert.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kenny and Annemarie Come to Taiwan: Episode IV - Taichung & Farewells

Our last two days with Annemarie and Kenny went by way too quickly. In Taichung we all refueled our energy – Brett and I needed to mentally prepare to go back to work at the height of our busy season, and our wonderful guests needed to brace themselves for a flight back across the Pacific. We took them to some of our most beloved restaurants in Taichung – Din Tai Feng for a beautiful meal, Hong Kong Manual Style Desserts for dim sum, and Bollywood for some naan and curry. We enjoyed cold tea drinks, our rooftop view, and a brief trip to the jade market. My favourite part, though, was taking them to Fengjia Night Market. We fed them fruit juice, tea, fried chicken, yams, French fries, and then shopped! Annemarie picked up some excellent Chinglish t-shirts for a steal of a deal. It was a perfect, relaxing end to our wonderful visit. 

On Saturday morning while they were still getting ready to head back to Canada, I unfortunately had to return to work. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, though. I was so refreshed and happy after such a wonderful visit that the huge pile of work I came back to seemed like a piece of cake. It’s funny – I cried when they arrived, but when they left I felt so happy and relaxed by our time together that I forgot to feel sad. I suppose it helps that I knew I’d see them again in another three months! 

When Brett and I both went back to work on Monday, we landed right in performance and final reports season for each of our most time-consuming classes. It’s been hectic ever since!

Kenny tucks right into the pork buns while Annemarie contemplates where to begin
Kenny & Annemarie
Relaxing on the roof of our condo building with some tea drinks
At Fengjia Night Market with some finger-lickin' fried chicken
Riding twosies.
Bollywood farewell dinner

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Kenny and Annemarie Come to Taiwan: Episode III - Aloha!

B is starting to get a little smug about how many more posts he’s done than me in recent months, so I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands for the second half of our Penghu trip! 

The day after we nearly drowned while driving to the aquarium, we woke up early (Island style... 9 o’clock?) and headed downstairs for our complimentary breakfast which came in the form of adorable individually wrapped fried egg sandwiches... still warm! We had a nice selection of little spicy sauces and relishes, as well as a milk tea and what I’m pretty sure was cold winter melon tea as well (a very sweet black tea drink). 

That morning, we checked out Shānshuǐ beach which made for some beautiful swimming conditions. I of course got a little too toasty in the sun, but Annemarie - wonderful creature that she is - was packing some pretty excellent SPF sans whiteners, so that was lovely. We drank tiny Asahis, ate some salty snacks, swam and swam and swam (much to the amusement/chagrin of some Taiwanese beachgoers who dipped in their toes and decided that was quite enough water sport for one day). 

After that, we checked out some cool temples, ate some delicious burning-hot pizza in a park, and crossed Penghu’s “Great Bridge” which was certainly the longest bridge I’ve ever traversed by car or scooter. The scooter factor actually was slightly terrifying due to the high winds that I was sure were whipping my hair into a lather all up in Annemarie’s face. I really need to learn how to French braid. On the way back to the B&B, we stopped at Penghu’s Great Banyan Tree for some photos and general resting in the shade. The skies had been alternating between overcast and blisteringly hot all day, with no signs of stopping, so any temporary shelter was much appreciated. Once we’d all had our fill of showers and naps, we headed back out into the night - this time, with a dinner recommendation from the B&B staff to avoid any unsatisfying/unplanned dinner mishaps. We ended up having a tasty dinner at a Cuban-themed restaurant called Havana. Annemarie courageously tried squid ink spaghetti (which was deemed quite spicy), and B had pizza for the second time that day. Whatever, that’s Island Style! 

The morning of our last full day on Penghu was an interesting and beautiful one. We went looking for beaches. We found one that was absolutely covered in garbage and natural refuse that had washed up from the ocean. Tons of cuttlefish bones, dead pufferfish, trash, big seashells, and so many other delights! The hoarder that I am, I had brought along a little Tupperware container to Penghu specifically for collecting shells (to trump B’s usual question as I hand him fistfuls of rocks and shells - “Where are you planning on putting all of this?”) We both agreed I’d found some keepers that morning! 

We found a decidedly less hazardous place to swim - the quiet and pristine Dream Beach. It was gorgeous, though down a terrifyingly steep slope. We had to hop and skip over a rocky intertidal area to get to the nice sand, but it was absolutely worth it. I would highly recommend this peaceful place to any Penghu vacationers! After that, we headed out (in blistering, cloudless conditions) to the Whale Cave where we had the opportunity to sample a Penghu specialty - cactus ice cream! The cactus product we were offered was bright red shaved ice (which reminded me a little of the smoky plum juice we’ve had a few times in Taiwan) on top of a cantaloupe-flavoured gelato-esque substance. Delish, and extremely refreshing. After our brief rest, we walked up a gentle slope to some rocky paths and the Whale Cave! There seemed to be quite a long path for walking along the cliffs, but we stopped for photo ops at the cave and then headed back on the road! 

We kept driving to the very far end of the island chain to see the historic lighthouse, which is about a four hour round-trip scooter ride from the airport. It was surrounded by what seemed to be an active military outpost, which was more than a little intimidating to walk past (for me). Guys with guns make me nervous! Later that night, after another carby dinner, we went to the Rainbow Bridge for a second time to see it all lit up in front of a black sky and ocean. Very cool! 

The next morning we flew back to Taichung and sadly said goodbye to our Island Style getaway and prepared for the last two nights of Kenny and Annemarie’s visit!

Shānshuǐ Beach
Temple at Shānshuǐ Beach
Penghu Great Banyan Tree
Great Banyan Tree Shrine
Brett and Amanda at Havana
Havana, our favorite Penghu restaurant
Squid Ink Spaghetti
Garbage Beach. It is hard to see the garbage from this photo as it was washed up quite high on the beach.
At Whale Cave
Cactus Ice Cream - Amanda said, "Look at it like you're excited to eat it." Good job Kenny.
Whale Cave in the background
Going for a little gander
Dream Beach
Amanda and Annemarie at Dream Beach
Group Shot - The Rainbow Bridge
The Rainbow Bridge