Friday, March 23, 2012

Taiwan Day 8: The End of My Journeys

 After we walked around the Longshan temple, we walked over to an herbal medicine street where there were a bunch of vendors selling medicinal teas, etc.  My aunt got me a menthol grass tea of some sort, it's suppose to be very refreshing.  It tasted decent and the menthol was strong, so yes, in a way, it was quite refreshing.  Then we headed to a historic street.
Yes this is part of the historic street and look, it's Asian graffiti!  I thought it was pretty awesome.  After we walked through the historic street we went and got some lunch.  I wasn't hungry but we ate anyway at a nice little side street shop.  Thereafter my aunt had a previous engagement and so I told her I was going to go to the CKS Memorial Hall.  She decided to accompany me there on the MRT since that's where she does her volunteer work.  Once she got me there, we said good bye for who knows how long.  She was my only aunt/uncle that hugged me goodbye.
So here's the CKS Memorial Hall.  The Hall itself has meeting rooms and exhibitions.  Outside of the Memorial hall there was the ballet and opera building... I think.  Some form of theater/music/performance halls.  Those are the two that you see in the picture above.
Here's the CKS monument and the picture below is the ceiling of the this place.

Here's the actual memorial hall.  I went there to see the changing of guards and the art exhibits besides it being a really cool place to snap photos of Taiwanese architecture.
So, on the outer areas of the Memorial there are gardens.  BEAUTIFUL gardens and here are some photos.

I was told that a lot of brides take pictures in this hall way.

So this is actually an entrance to the restrooms.  Crazy huh!
I spent most of my afternoon at the CKS Memorial, then I took the MRT to another little park, thereafter I started heading back.  It was getting late and once again I knew I should be home around 6:00pm especially since I was taking off at 8pm that night from Gina's.  Walking home I crossed the Sun Yet Sen Memorial where the lantern festival was still going on.  There were lots of people selling bubble wands and bubble guns, etc. and I caught this guy doing a neat little trick.  He makes a giant bubble and then blows on it to create bubbles inside.  He was the BEST at doing this as far as I could tell and he didn't do it for long so I was quite lucky to have caught the photo.
On the street that Gina lives there was a nice looking bakery.  I went it and got myself a custard bun, one of the few things that I actually wanted to eat and hadn't gotten a chance to all trip long.  I figured, I was already looking like I was 4-5 months pregnant, what the heck, a custard bun couldn't do much more damage.
When I got home Gina's MIL started making dinner.  We ate around 6:30, then I packed up everything else.  Gina had sent for a car to come get me.  Her and my grandma and her maid walked me down and said good bye there.  It took about 45-50 min to get to the airport.  I had to wait about 1.5-2 hours before boarding.
To be totally honest, yes, I did miss my family tons, but I was sad, really sad.  I LOVED being in Taiwan.  It was a fantastic experience.  I regret not coming more often when I was younger.  There were summers back when I was an undergraduate when I could've taken teaching jobs to teach English in Taiwan, but I didn't because I thought it'd be important to stick around and find my future. I believe that was a mistake and I should have come back at least 1 summer out of those 5 years that I spent at UW.  But, I know now that it's not hard to come back.  I was terrified for about a week before I came, thinking that I wouldn't be able to communicate as well as I would've liked or that I might get lost, but it was easy.  It was fantastic and it was easy.  So, maybe in a few more years when the kids are older I can go back again.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Taiwan Day 8: Longshan Temple

 This was my last day in Taiwan.  My grandma had to do volunteer work in the morning and Gina was gone at work too.  So, I had decided to go sight seeing at a few places.  My little aunt wanted to meet me at the Longshan temple to take me around and show me the sights.  Longshan in direct translation is "Dragon Mountain."  This is one of the more prestigious temples in Taiwan.  It is heavily decorated and my aunt was telling me that the more prestigious the temple the more decorations it has.  The temple houses many statues of the gods that the Buddhists worship and there were many people there burning incense, spiritual money, making food offerings, etc.  There was a god of fertility, a god of education, a god of economic success, etc.  and the main Guanyin.  I saw many many people offering prayers up to these different idols and it was really quite an interesting experience.
 So here,people say their prayers underneath the sky lantern and the idea is that the sky lantern will carry it up to the gods for them.

 My aunt explained to me that not all temples have the same "guardians" at the edges of the roofs and that you can tell that this temple was prestigious because they were allowed to have dragons and phoenixes on the roofs.  If the temple was not as old or prestigious they are not allowed to have such decorations.
I swear every wall, every window, every niche of this place had amazing carvings everywhere.  I have a lot more pictures but these should give a good idea.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Taiwan Day 7: Jiufen

 Day 7 started out more relaxed than the other days.  We got up, ate a little breakfast, hung around till about 9-9:30-ish, and then took a taxi to Jiufen.  Jiufen has apparently grown in the last 12 years into a HUGE tourist spot.  There is an old gold mine there with a gold museum that I unfortunately didn't get to go to because it was raining.  BUT, the other part of Jiufen is the shopping and the food!  This is better than any night market I have ever been to AND it has quite the fun atmosphere!  The streets are narrow and old and there are shops upon shops that are fun and unique.  I bought most of my presents here and I will definitely make it a point to come back here next time.
 The shopping/food area is right on top of a hill and the views are gorgeous.
 These are Ocarinas are so fun.  This shop was full of them and they had a guy there that plays it beautifully. There were kitties, puppies, ducks, birds, turtles, helicopters,airplanes, trains, cars, etc.  I have never seen so many different shapes of ocarinas before.  I almost bought one for Luke as a present, but he said he didn't want one.
 The characters on the lanterns say: Jiufen Mountain City
 Streets of Jiufen
So we shopped and we shopped till it was lunch time.  We ate at a nice little tea house and I got a nice bowl of super authentic beef noodle soup.  I LOVE beef noodle soup and I am so glad that I got to have it in Taiwan.  After lunch we shopped a bit more, and then we took the taxi back to Gina's.  We got to Gina's around 4pm and then I took off by myself to go buy the DVD players for my brothers and I; walked back to Taipei 101 for a few more things, and then I went back to Gina's by about 6:30pm.  I figured if I got home around then no one would worry.  We had dinner at the house cooked by Gina's mother in law.  Gina's MIL lives with them and helps take care of her two children since both Gina and her husband work full time.
After dinner I hung out, got on my cousin Victor's laptop and emailed, watched some anime with Gina's kids, and rearranged all my luggage and packed up most things since I was leaving the next day.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Taiwan Day 6 Hualien

 My second day in Hualien started out around 7:30am. My aunt had already gone down to a famous breakfast shop to get me some soy milk, rice milk, more steam buns and pot stickers, etc.  Needless to say I was chuck full.  Then we headed out.
We first went to a "charcoal bamboo" exhibit.  I didn't take any photos because the whole thing screamed "Nikken" at me, but looking back, I probably should have taken a few photos to at least document the experience.  So, if you don't know what "Nikken" is, it's basically a company that believes in the healing powers of magnets, purifying water with mineral rocks, fancy food supplements, etc.  Anyway, Charcoal bamboo apparently has amazing water purification capabilities.  I saw them demonstrate purification of water with it and it was quite amazing - yellow yucky water turning pure right before my eyes as it goes through a giant tube filled with charcoal bamboo.  They also had people try some sake with a charcoal bamboo cup after it's been sitting there for 2-3 minutes because it apparently takes the "burn" off of alcohol and produces a "better flavor."  Anyway, so we were there for a while and my aunt bought my siblings and I each a little charcoal bamboo cup. :o)  They also sold nuts laced with charcoal bamboo and coffee beans laced with charcoal bamboo... now I feel like it's a drug using the word "lace."  I tried the nut, it tasted like a nut covered in charcoal... not terribly disgusting charcoal, but charcoal nonetheless.  My grandma apparently rather liked the coffee so we got her some of that too.
Afterwards my aunt apparently decided that I must be hungry again and went and bought me veggie buns unique to Hualien.  This was only after an hour maybe two after breakfast.  Any wonder how I put on 10-12 lbs in 8 days?
Anyway, we next went to a wood carving place.  This wood is special because it has quite the amazing, sweet, wood scent.  It is also amazingly beautiful. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of this wood in English. They actually sell pieces of this wood for people to hang in their house or put in their drawers to make things smell wonderful, but they were nice enough to just pick up some scraps from their carvings and gave it to my grandma and I.
 I thought this was absolutely amazing.
 I took a picture of this one because of the snails, yes the snails.  I have always loved snails when I was little and we would play with them, etc.  Nowadays I HATE snails with a passion because they eat my garden, but I wanted to show people that snails aren't seen as terrible pests in Taiwan and they actually incorporate it in their fancy art!
 Anyway, after the wood exhibit we looked at a few other museums near the wood exhibit.  Then we headed around the mountains to another beach.  Once again it was cold, windy and wet that day, but it didn't stop us!  We ended up having lunch around 2pm at a crazy place.  I don't even really know how to describe this.  It was out of someone's home which was right next to the beach.  They supposedly cook fabulous fish and catch them fresh almost daily.  We got there and nothing was set up and was told that they didn't go get fish today because of the weather.  But, they decided that they would feed us anyway.  So they start setting up the tables and chairs in what I would describe as a covered driveway/carport.  We saw them take food out of their freezer and they start making us lunch on the side of the road.  When asked where the owner was, we were told that he was across the road in the mountain hunting wild boars.  Now, I have never been afraid to eat anything in Taiwan, but I was a little iffy when it came to this lunch.  The veggie dishes were tasty enough, but the fish dishes I had to wonder and I was a little scared, but I ate it anyway.  Luckily I didn't get too sick from it all, it just didn't settle as well as I would've liked.
 After lunch we toured a bit at a very small smoked fish exhibit and then headed off for tea time.  The tea place we went to was actually really fun.  It was a shop owned by an artist that makes sculptures out of bronze, wood and rock.  The place was perched right up on a hill over looking the water and it was quite nice.  We ordered 3 different types of herbal teas and some cakes and cookies.  The tea was actually amazingly tasty.  We had a citrus tea and two flower teas.  I learned after 3-4 small cups of tea that if I ever drank it all, my aunt would magically pick up the tea pot and re-fill my cup while she was deep in conversation and telling political stories to the other family that we were with.  Once I noticed that, I left my cup half full. :o)

 I had to take a picture of the flutist!

This was pretty much the end of our touring of Hualien.  After tea we drove back into the city.  My grandma and I had to take a train that night at 7:45pm to head back to Taipei.  We were going to go eat at a restaurant, but I was so full and our time was somewhat tight so we went back to my aunts and she made us dinner there.  I was extremely impressed by my aunt's speed of cooking and how many dishes there were.  Some she just reheated, others she cooked up, but regardless, it took her maybe 15-20 minutes and all of a sudden the table was filled with 6-7 different dishes of food.   Now, I don't remember EVER eating something that she's made before.  All growing up, whenever we visited Hualien, all I remember was restaurants upon restaurants and finally when there was so much left-overs we'd eat the left-overs at her house.  But I don't ever remember her cooking.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that she was an excellent cook.  We talked a bit more, and I discovered for the first time that she really was quite an amazing wife/mother.  She is a part of the high society and she plays her part VERY well.  She's a very gracious hostess, but very commanding at the same time.  She was a good mother, albeit strict at times, but she was a good mother.  She is now a very loving grandmother.  She's got a soft side to her that I've never known before till we chatted this time around.  I'm grateful for the time that I got to spend with her.  This never would have happened had I been with my siblings or other family because we just simply wouldn't have talked as much as we did this time.
Anyway, after dinner my uncle took us to the train station and we headed back to Taipei.  We arrived in Taipei Songshan station at around 10:15pm.  It was actually FREEZING when we got off the train and we couldn't find a taxi for 15-20 minutes.  I felt awful because I knew my grandma was cold but I didn't have a way of keeping her warm.  I figured that in Taiwan you could find a taxi anywhere at anytime!  That was apparently true only at the Taipei City Main station and we should have gotten off there instead, but we didn't know.  We got to Gina's fairly late - 11:00-ish, I showered and headed off to my little makeshift bed on the floor.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Taiwan Day 5 - Hualien: Taroko part II and the beach

Of course there was food to talk about at Taroko!  This was a "lunch special" at a really nice restaurant inside the national park for roughly $8 USD, so yes, really nice restaurant.  I took a picture of it because my rice came in a bamboo stick and all of it was quite delicious.  The bamboo makes the rice have a really nice aroma and the texture is a bit different from normal rice.
This "art work" was displayed on the roof/side of the public bathrooms.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.
 That's my big aunt sporting the V with me.  She looks an awful lot like my grandpa and totally freaked me out when I first saw her, but her smile sure does remind me of my dad.
 Many of you know that I have an issue with heights.  My grandma had no problems walking straight across this bridge.  I, on the other hand, barely made it.  The sides/rails of this suspension bridge drops down below my hips in the middle and I totally had a vertigo/queasy moment.  This picture pretty much sums up the two of us - grandma standing proud in the middle of the bridge and me holding on to the sides hunched down.

This whole day was actually quite cold and rainy, but my big aunt has always been an excellent hostess, and she must take you to see all the most important sights regardless of weather.  So, after Taroko we headed off to see the beach.  The wind was CRAZY at the beach!  I was super cold and therefore did not go down to the beach and pick up rocks, get better pictures, etc.  I pretty much jumped out, took a few pictures and jumped right back in the van.  I wish the weather was better that day.  My aunt tells me that when it's sunny, the water is a beautiful shade of blue.
After the beach we went to a little art museum.  The funny thing was, the purpose of going there for my aunt was to buy me things from the souvenir shop.  She's really an amazing hostess.  After that we finally headed to her home to drop off our bags.  My uncle is quite a famous neurosurgeon in Hualien and they own a 4 story building as their home.  We waited for him to get off work and headed to another restaurant for dinner.  The food was quite good and mostly vegetarian for my grandma's sake.  I have to say, this was the most intimate restaurant outing I've ever had with my big aunt.  Usually there are MANY more people with us (even at Taroko we had another family with us), but on this night there were only the 4 of us.  I sat right next to my aunt and my grandma.
Now, my aunt can be a very intimidating person.  She is wealthy and she does a lot of politicking in the high society of Taiwan, and you do what she says; that's the way it has always been.  For the first time in my life EVER, I was not intimidated by her.  She was talking to me about population control and about having children and how I should stop having children.  For the first time in my life, I was able to sit there and tell her, "you have some good points, but my husband and I have always wanted 4-5 kids, and we will have another if we can."  Not intimidated at all, and did not back down.  I felt like I was a grown, mature, smart, competent, capable woman at that very moment and was quite proud of myself.  She wasn't offended, she kept talking about it for a bit longer and then switched subjects.
We headed back to her house that evening at a decent hour, I unwound, got ready and went to bed at a decent hour and had the best sleep I had all trip long.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Taiwan Day 5 - Hualien: Taroko National Park

 My big aunt lives in Hualien which is a solid 2 hour train ride from Taipei and that's if you take the more direct train.  Other trains can take anywhere from 4-6 hours.  My big aunt is my dad's oldest sister.  She has always been a somewhat scary/intimidating person in my memories.  She's a very take-charge type of person who usually gets her way and I wouldn't dare dishonor her by not going to visit.  Besides that, Hualien is beautiful and quite a fun place to visit. 
So, I had made plans and decided to go down to Hualien for Day 5 and 6 of my stay in Taiwan.  My grandma came with me.  Our train was at 7:20am so once again we got up early and went out the door by 6:50am.  Unfortunately I didn't get a train lunchbox this trip.  It was kind-of early and when I came back it was kind-of late.  Train lunch boxes are so tasty, but once again, I'll have to do that next time I visit. 
Anyway, my aunt had booked a car/van for us that day and wanted to take us to see the sights as soon as we arrived.  The Taroko National Park is located in Hualien and it's beautiful.  That was our first destination. Apparently it's really important that you get there first thing in the morning because, honestly, by about noon time there were so many tour buses traveling on the roads in the mountains it was a huge pain to get around and find parking.
Here are some sights.  There are a lot more pictures so I think I'll go ahead and do another post on this park.

 You use to be able to go all the way down and play in the water, but the driver/guide told me that a while ago they blocked it off to prevent accidents and also to preserve the water's purity.  I had to admit, when he was telling me that, I was thinking, Luke would find a way down there and if he got in trouble he'd just play ignorant. :o)

 These little Lions carved in marble lined a bridge on the road on both sides.  Every single lion is different!  It was amazing.

 Can you see the head/faces on the side of these mountains?

 Can you see the frog shape in the stone on this one?  The structure is on top of the frog head if that helps.
I love this picture of my grandma.  She's so cute and so happy.