Saturday, April 19, 2008

The adventures continue.

As May quickly approaches, I am reminded that my time here is more than half over. While my parents were in Taiwan I told them there was a very good possibility of me extending my stay here. Since they have left I toiled for days over ways to come up with money to extend my stay, I looked into Visa extensions, scholarships for school, and even jobs to support the cost of living. However, after thinking things over again and again, I have decided that I will be coming home at the end of August as was had originally planed. My plane ticket is booked, and the date is set. But as I start to plan for my fall semester back at UWM, I also continue to discover new and wonderful things in this place.

Sitting at school waiting for class to start I looked out upon the city and realized that this place feels more and more like my home. The buildings, although concrete and stained with exhaust, add to this city's wonderful character. You can sense the amount of people, and the flow of life by gazing at the Taipei skyline. C.K.S. Memorial Hall and Big Pink (Taiwan's second tallest building) stick out at day and night.

Walking through Shida Night market you can always tell you've found good food if there is a long line of people waiting for it. One stand in the night market always seems to have the longest line, so I decided to give it a try. The stand sells something called Lu Wei, they give you a basket and a set of tongs and you get to select what kind of food you would like to eat, they have dofu, tons of fresh veggies, meat, noodles, and tons of other stuff. You put the things you want into the basket and then the cook plunges it into the black, boiling Lu Wei(滷味) broth, made from Chinese herbal medicine. After the food is done they add chili sauce, garlic, and some other goodies. If you eat at the restaurant behind the Lu Wei stand you get your meal on a nice big plate, but if you take it to go, or as we say in chinese dai zou(帶走), chinese for carry out, all your food goes into a nice plastic bag. My basket of Lu Wei consisted of noodles, dofu, mushrooms, asparagus, green beens and fresh lettuce. The meal was incredible, and well worth the half hour wait and 140NT I paid for it; like I said before, huge lines means the food is good.

The food at the Lu Wei stand was so good that I ate it again the next night as well. Thankfully I ordered while it was still pretty early so I didn't have to wait for a half hour the second time around. Last night Matt's friend from Germany arrived in Taipei for the weekend and we decided to show him around. We started the night at the 45 our pub of choice and had a few beers. After that it was over to Longshan temple which was had a very different feel at night. Very peaceful, yet alive with energy. After Longshan temple we went over to Snake Alley and got stuffed on street food. I had some tasty chao mian (fried noodles) and watched the boys eat some awesome cuts of sashimi for the sweet price of 150NT, there never going to get deals like that back home. After Longshan temple we headed out to a club and danced the night away. All in all it was a great way to start the weekend. Not sure what will be next on my adventures in Taipei, most likely some homework. We are studying political terms and our report for this test is a mock election for ban zhang(班長), class representative. While these types of reports require a good amount of effort, its a wonderful use of new vocabulary.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Parents: Week two in Taipei.

Emily’s status: is HOME!!!!
Facebook confirms it. My family is home at last. Their two week journey in Island Formosa, the beautiful island, has come to a conclusion. I am sure they will have loads of stories to tell about their stay in Taiwan, so I will just pick up where my last blog left off.

Friday: We got up early had some breakfast and took a three hour train ride to Hualian where we had a hotel room waiting for us. We checked into the hotel and went out ready to explore the city for the rest of the day. As we were getting some info together at the Information center, I was approached by a taxi driver who spoke a little english. She offered to take us to Taroko Gorge for the rest of the day and give us a great tour for a very reasonable price. After a quick family meeting we decided to take the taxi tour to Taroko, and we were off. The awesome sight of Taroko Gorge is something that words have a hard time describing. Standing on the roads overlooking the ravine below you can feel the awesome power of this place in the pit of your stomach. Our trip to Taroko consisted of 5 stops total. Our first was the Eternal Spring Shrine, which was built to honor all the people who died building the the Taroko Pass. The Shrine, despite being under construction was an awesome sight, sitting all alone peacefully among waterfalls and marble laden walls it stood silent and beautiful.

After our stop at Eternal Spring Shrine we were off on a short walk called The Swallow Gratto Tunnel that lead up to the Commemoration of Chinheng, the engineer who designed the gorge pass. After an earthquake destroyed some of the roads Chinheng was killed in a rockfall when he came to inspect the damage. The walk was beautiful, but the constant signs warning us of falling rocks were a constant reminder of the people lost building the awesome pass. From there we were off to the Tunnel of Nine Turn's, another awesome display of nature and engineering working together to create a beautiful mountain pass. The walk was peaceful and breathtaking. We did a few more hiking trails and finished our stay in Taroko with a nice stair hike up to the Heaven Summit Pagoda. After our wonderful trip to Taroko Gorge we went to a Aboriginal dance in the cultural center of Hualian. Emily, the adventurous traveler, got up the nerve to even dance with the group on stage. I am sure that the cute boys wearing nothing more than a warriors mini skirt had nothing do to with her decision.

Saturday: After spending our Friday in Taroko Gorge we decided to take a hike on the Zuo Tsang Trail in Hualian. We discovered the hike in a local expat magazine, it boasted a wonderful view of Hualian and even a chance to see some Formosan rock macaque's in the distance. The magazine did not disappoint in any sense. The sights were amazing, looking like something out of Jurassic Park, so much different from the view in the gorge. After walking for about an hour, I finally got to stop saying that I was not leaving the area without seeing some monkeys. A rustle in the distance confirmed my hopes of finding them, no less that 8 macaque's were hanging out in the tree's and checking out the strange white humans who were out enjoying the day. It had to be one of the coolest things of the weekend. After checking out the monkey's for quite a while we continued our hike to the top. We made it up to a nice resting place about 1.2KM from the summit and we decided to end our trip short and head back down the mountain. After the hike we took a taxi ride back to Hualian where we found a nice little vegetarian restaurant and stuff our selves full of fried rice, noodles, and heaps of dumplings. While at the restaurant we experienced once again wonderful Taiwanese hospitality. Rather than taking another taxi back to our hotel the daughter of the restaurant we were eating at offered to give us a car ride back, and we gratefully accepted. We spent the rest of the day hanging out and playing some Password, a family favorite, where Dad and Emily got in the zone and practically swept the game leaving Mom and I in the dust.

Sunday: Our trip came to a quick end on Sunday, with our 9 A.M. train ride sending us on our different ways. I took a train ride back to Taipei, and my parents headed off to Tainan, where they spent two days exploring the old capitol city. I know they had a lot of fun there, but they will have to fill you in on all the details for that lag of the trip. Sunday back in Taipei for me meant hitting the books and getting ready for another week of school. I got a phone call that night telling me that my family had made it safe and found a hotel in Tainan.

Tuesday: Tuesday night my parents arrived back in Taipei and we met up after my class. We headed over to a great Vegetarian Buffet for our evening meal and stuffed our faces full of Tofu, noodles, dumplings, and anything else that caught our fancy. Over the two weeks that my family spent in Taipei we must have ate at no less that 5 vegetarian buffets, every time was a true delight. As we all professed more that once, "who needs meat when the favors are this good!" After our dinner we headed over to Shilin night market, the largest in all of Taipei, where I had ordered a very nice traditional Chinese dress shirt, and Emily had here eye on a purse that was going to be "the talk of the town when she got home." You can't spend a night in a night market without also tasting some of the great treats offered there. Mom and I couldn't resist ordering our favorite snack, a bag of fresh pineapple, and my Dad, having already tried fried squid and other treats had to order the stinky tofu.

Wednesday & Thursday: Wednesday night we went to a more traditional Beijing style restaurant. The dinner was wonderful and the flavors were very different from what we had been eating all week. After our dinner we went to Cafe Bastille, our local hangout where Dad and I enjoyed a few Belgium beers that boasted a more than modest 10.5% alcohol by volume label. Thursday morning we were up bright and early and we headed over to Xin Bei Tou for a trip to the natural hot springs. The water was super hot, but very enjoyable, we started out in the coolest of four pools offered at the public bath house. We never made it into the two hottest one's they were just to hot for our untrained skin. After the hot springs my parents headed off the Dan Shui and I once again rode the MRT solo back to Taipei for school. Thursday night John, my landlord, took my family and a long time friend of his Mark, also staying at the hostel, out for a great dinner filled with fresh chicken, fish, veggie's, pork and more. After dinner Dad and I spent some time up on the fifth floor balcony of Happy Family Hostel enjoying a few beers and some nice cuban cigars.

Friday: Friday morning came and went, we enjoyed a great breakfast at one of our hotspots and I was once again off to school for the afternoon. After school it was time to head over and up to the top of the 101 to enjoy the nighttime view of Taipei. The coolest part of the whole experience may actually have been the elevator... holy cow did it move fast! We covered 84 floors in 30 seconds and could even feel our ears pop on the way. Once we got to the top the view was breathtaking. Car's looked like ant's and buildings looked like little models in a diorama. Of course, I realized once we made it to the top that my camera's battery was officially dead so you will have to check out my parents photo's from the top.

Saturday: The last full day in Taipei for my family turned out to be quite and adventure. We headed over near Ximending a bustling hotspot in Taipei for our family's last vegetarian buffet. After enjoying another lovely meal we took a 45 minute bus ride up to Yangming Shan, Taipei counties national park. After reaching Yangming Shan we took another bus ride that was standing room only. We were jostled and knocked around for a little while till we had enough and decided to get off at the next stop. When we got out, we enjoyed the less than miraculous view, due to the humidity and the smog in the city and then we decided to trek back down the mountain on foot on the side of the road, watching out for buses, scooters and cars along the way. It was a little dangerous, but actually quite fun. Afterwards we caught a bus down the rest of the mountain and stopped at The Spot, the old American embassy in Taipei that has been turned into an Art House movie theater/ cafe. After enjoying some drinks we headed out for a wonderful Hot Pot dinner near my school. We ate a wonderful meal and then enjoyed a nice walk around the area before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Sunday: My family's trip was nearing a close, but not before having one last early morning breakfast before rushing off to the airport. After seeing my family off I headed back home only to receive a phone call a few hours later to tell me that their flight had be delayed 8 hours in Taipei and that they were also going to have to spend the night in San Francisco. I know the trip home wasn't pleasant, but knowing my family I am sure they made the best of it. I hear that Emily learned how to play Cribbage and they played into the early hours of the morning. Like the first lines of this blog stated my parents are home at last.

I would like to take the time to thank my family for making the trip out to Taiwan. It has been the first family vacation in a long time and it was more incredible than I ever would have imagined. It is a trip that I will remember for the rest of my life. My studies here would not have been possible without the encouragement of my family and friends.