Welcome 2014

Some of the New Year's cards my students made.

(That is, Happy New Year!)

I can't believe it's already 2014! Time certainly goes fast, I'm quickly heading toward my second year in Taiwan. These days my schedule is packed, so because I was exhausted I decided not to venture far from my apartment this year. Therefore, I didn't go any where near Taipei 101.  My prediction last year was right; I didn't want to brave the crowds again.  Nonetheless, I fun making new years cards with my students and enjoying myself close to home.


Jingle bells! Jingle bells!

(That is, Merry Christmas!)
The Christmas tree and snowman at the school where
I work.
Me at the end of Christmas.
I hate surgical masks, but I was coughing
and would have felt uncomfortable on
public transport without it.
I have not posted since Thanksgiving, so I think it's quite evident that I have been busy, busy, busy!  I'm so busy that I would periodically forget that Christmas was coming, but the lights and Christmas trees here are a constant reminder, although I didn't make an effort to see the big displays like I did last year (I think Taiwanese people enjoy Christmas as much as Americans!) But I enjoy being busy; after all, idle minds breed idle thoughts. In fact, my schedule is so full that I had to work on Christmas. But honestly, I wouldn't have had it any other way as I've grown to love my children.

Unfortunately for me, I had to go through my commute and work day with a cold and terrible sore throat, but it was worth it.


My (Accidentally) Chinese Fusion Thanksgiving Dinner

The veggies draining.
I have such a small kitchen now they had to be
relegated to the sink area for awhile.
Earlier this week, I didn't remember Thanksgiving was approaching until I talked to my parents and they reminded me.  It's such a stark contrast from my first year in Taiwan.  Last year, I felt down because I wasn't able t return home for the holidays.  But now, I've acclimated to life here, and I'm busy.  Holiday season has arrived and I didn't even notice!

After speaking to my parents, I thought to myself, "What should I do for Thanksgiving?"  Last year, I had dinner with a friend at a popular restaurant close to where I live.  This year, I thought of doing nothing, but then I decided to try to cook myself Thanksgiving dinner.

I buy a rotisserie chicken to eat over the course of 7-10 days every time I go to the grocery store, so I decided to save some of it for Thanksgiving in place of turkey.  I bought instant pumpkin soup as clam chowder imported from America costs more than I wanted to pay.  I decided I needed some veggies, so I bought a can of beets and a can of mixed veggies, rinsed the can water out, mixed the two, boiled them for a little while, then voila! - a vegetable side-dish.

However, there was one major component I wasn't sure I could pull off.  One thing I missed a lot last year and started to miss again this year when I realized Thanksgiving was around the corner was my mom's amazing stuffing!


Shilin Night Market

Shilin Night Market is probably the most famous night market in Taipei - if not Taiwan - and is frequented by many tourists.  However, it is not a tourist trap.  Well, at least the outdoor portion of it (which has the better food) isn't.  There's a huge variety of snacks to try at Shilin Night Market, and the kinds of food there seems to expand every time I go.

The view from Jiantian Station on a sunny day.
Shilin Night Market is also awesome because it's quite easy to access. Simply go to Jiantian Station on the red line and take exit 2.  Then, walk straight and cross left at the first intersection you hit. Then bam! - you're there.  It's a large market, so I suggest wandering without any sort of agenda.


Gambling in Macau!

The day I landed in Hong Kong, I took a day trip to Macau.  Since it was such a short trip and I didn't have a lot of time to plan, I wasn't sure which ferry would be the best to take, so my dad and I just hopped on one and paid the fee, haha.  I'm not sure which one it was, or how much it cost, but we were just happy to have found one.  Since ferries to Macau are so frequent, we only had to wait about 15 minutes to board the boat.

The ferry leaving the harbor in Central.
Sitting on the ferry was quite similar to being on a plane.  Everyone had assigned seats which were quite comfy, and there were about five rows of three seats each so a lot of people were able to fit on it.


Concert Review: Clazziquai (live @ Legacy Taipei - Da'an 大安)

Due to a thing called life, I haven't gotten to see many concerts here in Taiwan.  A lot of my favorite bands and singers have come to Taiwan over the past few months, and but I had to pass up a lot of shows.  However, when I was told Clazziquai was coming, I had to make time to go!

Clazziquai are DJ Clazzi (programmer); Horan (vocals), and Alex (vocals)

I've known of Clazziquai for awhile, especially because of their collaborations with two other groups that I like, Epik High ("Honjarado [Alone]") and m-flo ("Love Me After 12am"; "Love Mode").  Nonetheless, for some reason I didn't really start listening to them until last year.  I fell in love with them instantly.  Clazziquai's music is easy listening, and it's diffiult to resist Alex and Horan's vocals (which I think are some of the best in K-pop).  I think Clazziquai sounds like elevator music "done right".  In other words, it's soothing and other worldly, thanks in part to DJ Clazzi's expert mixing.


The Great Wall of China

So. Many. People!
Part of the crowd up close.
A trip to China is not complete without visiting one of the sections of the Great Wall of China.  So, when I went to China, my classmates and I took a day trip to the most popular wall in the world!  Aside from the obscene heat and hoards of people there, it was definitely a positive experience.

The Badaling section of the Great Wall is one of the more popular portions.  It's a little over an hour away from Beijing.  Our school arranged for a bus to take us, but there are many public and tour buses shuttling people to the Great Wall.


Black in Taiwan, Part II: Shit Taiwanese People Say

Perhaps many of you are familiar with the "Shit [insert specific group here] say (about [insert second specific group here])" videos floating around on YouTube recently, A while ago, one that caught my eye for obvious reasons was "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls" by chescaleigh:

I showed someone this video, and she suggested I make a "Shit Taiwanese People Say". But, as I focus on writing, I decided to do a little written version. I realize not all Taiwanese people make these ignorant comments, and I have met many open-minded locals here, but the following comments are things I seriously hear *a lot*.

So, without further ado, my top 5 pieces of "shit" I hear Taiwanese people say about black people.


Tamkang University (淡江大學)

I'm an English (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, TESOL) graduate student at Tamkang University (淡江大學).  The school is private and located in Danshui, one of the districts of New Taipei City (basically, the suburbs/countryside around Taipei).  It began as an English school, which is what attracted me to it. 

The building for the College of Foreign Languages and Literature.
The English department is located on the second floor.
Chueh-sheng Memorial Hall, where I attend the majority
of my classes my classes.


2013 Lantern Festival

Aren't these lanterns cute?!
This year's Lantern Festival (上元節; shangyuanjie) was held back from the end of February to the beginning of March. The Lantern Festival signifies the official ending of Chinese New Year.  There seems to be several different stories regarding how the festival began, but I think the most important aspect of the festival is spending time with family and friends (people who bring the "light" to the new year).

In the beginning, the lanterns were simpler. Now, many of them stand several feet tall and come in all shapes and sizes from Disney characters to Angry Birds!  My friend and I took an evening to admire all the lovely lanterns around Yuanshan in Taipei.


The Peak

The tracks of the peak tram at the beginning.
The view from the tram
Look at all those high-rise apartments!
One of the most popular attraction is Hong Kong is The Peak (aka Victoria Peak or 太平山). There are several ways to get to the top of The Peak, yet the most popular method is by Peak Tram. You can walk from various parts of the city or take several buses to the Peak Tram which is located not far from Central Station, but my dad and I rode the Mid-Levels Escalator to the end, then followed the clear signs which point all the way to the Peak Tram area.


798 Art District

The sign at the main entrance.
Like any other place in Beijing, people
wanted to take pictures with me.
Because I love art, my favorite place in Beijing was 798 Art District (popularly called "qi-jiu-ba" or 7-9-8) which is located in Chaoyang (朝陽區).

Why does the art district have such a name?  Well, long story short, the area was an old industrial zone where a large factory called Factory 718 was built.  One of the buildings within the factory was named Factory 798.  So, when the artists moved in, the numbers from that factory became popularized and eventually became the name for the entire area.


National Center for Traditional Art

A shot of the National Center for Traditional Art's
old street recreation.
In January, my dad and I were lucky enough to be driven by a friend to Yilan which is on the east coast of Taiwan, about an hour away from Taipei. We were able to visit many interesting places, primarily the National Center for Traditional Arts.  It's a huge compound where you can take in replicas of old buildings and enjoy Taiwanese art and snacks.  There are several activities for children as well as adults. Luckily, we went on a bright, sun-shiny day!


Happy Lunar New Year!

February 10th was the Lunar New Year Day and the official start of the year of the snake!  Lunar New Year is one of (if not) the biggest holiday here in Taiwan.  It certainly is a great departure from hearing about the holiday from friends who celebrate it when I'm back in the States as it's interesting to see a busy city like Taipei basically shut down. Most stores, restaurants, and banks are closed until around February 15th (some until even February 17th according to the signs!) and many students have gone back to their hometowns, if they aren't from Taipei, of course.  So, I've had to cook most of my meals lately. Thankfully, I enjoy cooking!


I am now 23! (+cafe review)

Drinking my favorite Imperial Earl Grey tea
on my birthday.
As February 7th was my birthday! For some reason, I feel much older than one a turned 22, maybe since this is the first birthday I have celebrated away from home. Also, I now feel like I have more responsibilities and have matured. Mainly, I'm grateful to be alive because many do not live to see 23.

I treat my birthday like New Year's day in that I always make new goals for myself. So here are three things I'd like to accomplish before 24:

1. Be more responsible 

2. Be happy with myself

3. Be proactive and achieve something big

Recently, I've been talking about dreams with many friends, and I feel it's time to develop a feasible long term dream and life goal for myself. Those are things which encourage me to stay motivated. 


Nan Lian Garden & Chi Lin Nunnery

Nan Lian Garden,
heaven right in the middle of a concrete jungle.
Hong Kong is, by far, the most happening city I've visited. It's noisy and constantly bustling. Sometimes, it feels like you can't escape the noise and crowds of people, but in reality, there are some places where you can, like Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery; the nunnery is located inside the garden. It's a gorgeous area, and best of all, it's peaceful. A stroll through the garden only takes about an hour, but you can spend up to two hours there if you stop frequently, which I suggest everyone do because it's worth it.

The area is easy to access. Just take Kwun Tong Line (green) to Diamond Hill Station .  I don't recall which exit to take, but if you look at the exit information, you will see the garden and nunnery on the list. Admission to the garden and nunnery is free, yet there are some restricted sections that are not open to the public.

Chi Lin Nunnery.


Central Mid-levels Escalator

Faye Wong in Chungking Express.
Recently, I went on a short day and a half trip to Hong Kong and Macau with my dad.  We saw as many of the sites as we could, which I'll share in detail later in other posts.

Naturally, we rode the insanely long Mid-levels Escalator, the longest outdoor escalator in the world! Before I went to Hong Kong, I knew I had to visit the Mid-levels escalator.  Why?  Well, the Mid-levels escalator was where part of Chungking Express was filmed, an amusing movie with one of my favorite actresses/singers, Faye Wong.

Going up! Let the ride begin!

The escalator is not a useless tourist destination; it has practical purposes.  Hong Kong is an extremely hilly city, and densely populated.  Needless to say, rush hour can be a nightmare there! So, the escalator was built to facilitate the movement of the rush hour crowd up and down the mountains.  Unfortunately, there were insufficient funds to build a two-way system.  Therefore, from 6am to 10am the escalator goes down, and from 10:30am to midnight it goes up.


Spirited Away to Jiufen

Jinan Temple, one of many temples in the mountain community of Jiufen.
Before I moved to Taiwan, I did research about the famous sights in the country.  When I discovered Jiufen (九份), I immediately fell in love with it and knew I had to go there.  Why?  It served as a major inspiration for one of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, Spirited Away!

Jiufen, like most places in Taiwan, is easy to access.  From Taipei, one only needs to go to MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing station, take exit one, make a u-turn, walk straight and find the stop for bus 1062.  However, if you have an Easy Card, you might not be allowed to use it. A oneway trip to Jiufen costs NT102 (about $3.50), so a round trip is NT204 (about $7).  The ride takes about an hour, and it's fun to see the sights in between, like the small town of Ruifeng.

My first trip to Jiufen was not full of sunshine.  It was gloomy, cold, and rainy, but I think the nasty weather added to the charm - honestly!  It looked like a spooky ghost town in some places, and I felt like I was on a movie set.  But the weather didn't stop the tourists from coming out.  Luckily, we were there on a weekday and thus it wasn't as crowded as it could have been.  There were many Japanese tourists there, and hearing Japanese and walking in the rain reminded me of one of my favorite Japanese songs "Ame no Machi Wo" (The Rainy Town) by Yumi Arai:


The Beautiful Campus of Taida (台大)

The main administrative building.
National Taiwan University, popularly known as Taida (台大), is one of the most beautiful college campuses in Taipei. It was founded in 1928 by the Japanese, and is Taiwan's most prestigious school. On the weekend, it transforms into a park for families and tourists to take a stroll, enjoy a bike ride, or sit down and relax.