taiwan summer 2016 part II

Posted: September 28, 2016 in Uncategorized

Taiwan is riding out a strong, loud, and rather slow-moving typhoon, and I am therefore stuck in my apartment. Might as well blog. And yes, I know it’s not technically summer any longer. This typhoon is our third storm inside ten days; the first swept across the southern tip of Taiwan, the second across the north, and this current one is cutting a diagonal path right across the middle. The wind and rain have been terrible, but I still have power and water. Looking outside, the damage doesn’t seem that bad, either – just some trees and signs down, scooters blown over, and debris all over the place. We’ve just gotten notice that tomorrow will be a second typhoon day, with work and classes cancelled island-wide. We have four or five typhoon days each storm season, but this is the first time that I’ve had double days off.

a rainbow across my neighborhood early Monday morning. Weather already looking like a storm's on the way.

a rainbow across my neighborhood early Monday morning. Weather already looking like a storm’s on the way.

sky color before the storm.

sky color before the storm. Eerie, huh?

you can see this current typhoon's path straight over Taiwan from this screen grab of windyty.

you can see this current typhoon’s path straight over Taiwan from this screen grab of windyty.

Let’s see. It’s been almost two months since I came back from America. Most of the month of August was shadowed by the ghost festival. In my very traditional neighborhood, it’s impossible to walk down the road during this month without running across people burning money or possessions, or setting tables full of offerings for their ancestors. Temple parades and street rituals happen daily, and there’s a much higher amount of incense wafting around than usual.

My neighborhood. Busy, crowded, beautiful, crazy.

My neighborhood. Busy, crowded, beautiful, crazy.

it's common to see tents like these set up for offering, rituals, and spirit meetings.

it’s common to see tents like these set up for offering, rituals, and spirit meetings.

a fire burning paper money.

a fire burning paper money.

here a woman throws rice in some sort of ghost welcoming custom.

here a woman throws rice in some sort of ghost welcoming custom.

it always amuses me when Taiwanese are conscious of fire safety while lighting huge fires to send goods to their ancestors.

it always amuses me when Taiwanese are conscious of fire safety while lighting huge fires to send goods to their ancestors.

A family from my church moved to Sanchong over the past summer, so now I actually know some other expats living in my neighborhood. One of the reasons I chose to live where I do is because there is a distinct lack of foreign people – much easier to be immersed in Taiwanese culture and language. And I can also attest to the fact that a foreign face brings fun and interesting interactions with the locals, particularly if they aren’t used to seeing laowai living amongst them. I’m glad that this family has moved to Sanchong, though. It’s nice knowing that people I know and can talk with are just a five minute scooter ride down the road. They moved to the area to do missions work, and I’ve been over a couple times to babysit for them.

Work has been taking most of my time. I have way more classroom hours than I currently want, but we should be getting a new teacher this month and I hope to have more free time before too long. I’m teaching two kindy classes again this year, as well as a fourth grade ESL and science class, plus an upper level evening class. I enjoy all the classes, but the administrative side of things is killing me – prep, grading, comm books, progress reports, etc. There have been some extra events lately, too. Last weekend we hosted a full day outing for parents and students to Taoyuan City, and then the next weekend I had to spend five hours at an awards ceremony for teachers.

teaching award, woot!

teaching award, woot!

a full day work event last weekend.

a full day work event last weekend.

At the end of August my rugby team played a Hong Kong team, winning with a comfortable margin of 67-10 over three 10s matches. It was good practice, since we were headed to Macau for beach rugby two weeks later. Macau is an easy hour and a half flight from Taipei, so we flew out Friday night for a weekend of rugby and exploring. I’m not a huge fan of Macau, but I hadn’t been there since 2013, so it was nice to have a look around again.

post-Hong Kong game.

post-Hong Kong game.

celebrate a 67-10 win!

celebrate a 67-10 win!

team huddle.

team huddle.

with the girls from Hong Kong.

with the girls from Hong Kong.

excited to play in Macau!

excited to play in Macau!

it absolutely poured a couple of hours early on. Made for some wet, slippery play.

it absolutely poured a couple of hours early on.

group hug!

group hug!

team with our cowch for the day.

team with our cowch for the day.

we crashed some dude's penthouse apartment for the weekend. came with some awesome views of the strip.

we crashed some dude’s penthouse apartment for the weekend. came with some awesome views of the strip.

appropriate tour wear... and somehow wearing the same color post-shower towel.

appropriate tour wear… and somehow wearing the same color post-shower towel.

just some udder madness with m'cows in Macau.

just some udder madness with m’cows in Macau. and a crocowdile.

When I do have a free evening or weekend, I still love getting around Taiwan on my scooter or on the back of a friend’s. We had a four-day weekend in mid-September for Moon Festival. The first day of vacation blessed us with a full-on typhoon, but the second holiday gave us the most perfect weather since I’d come back. The best weather always comes right before a storm, and we knew another typhoon was right behind the first so we’d better make the most of the one nice day we had.

look at the sky between typhoons! Bright blue and cloudless.

look at the sky between typhoons! Bright blue and cloudless.

I went riding with a friend to one of my very favorite places in north Taiwan.

I went riding with a friend to one of my very favorite places in north Taiwan.

graves upon hillsides.

graves upon hillsides.

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you can see the mountains and the coast at the same time from up here.

you can see the mountains and the coast at the same time from up here.

panoramic view looking away from the coast.

panoramic view looking away from the coast.

just mountains roads :)

just mountains roads🙂

pretty much in awe.

pretty much in awe.

another summer event was our second annual qipao evening.

another summer event was our second annual qipao evening.

qi-powwowing with some of my best ladies.

qi-powwowing with some of my best ladies.

taiwan summer 2016 part I

Posted: June 28, 2016 in life in taiwan

The past month or so has been hectic and hurried. I’m leaving for the U.S. in less than 12 hours, and have yet to pack a single thing. I’ll likely end up chucking a few things in my bag around midnight before I head to the airport for an early morning flight to Korea. It’s truly strange to pack up my whole life for an entire month. Work, friends, scooter, apartment, daily routine – zaijian until August. Taiwan feels a lot like home right now, and I know I’ll miss it while I’m away.

My neighborhood never fails to entertain, so let me share some of my most recent sightings. I specifically chose to live in Sanchong, an area bordering Luzhou, where I work. These two districts are older, densely populated, and extremely traditional, but Sanchong ups the crazy and crowded with a gangster scene. I rarely see other foreigners here, which allows me to really immerse myself in the culture and language. Not a day goes by that I don’t see or do or experience something that, not so long ago, would have boggled my mind. Now it’s just everyday life.

my road.

my road.

these hell money cans cast long shadows in more than one way.

these hell money cans cast long shadows in more than one way.

Because Sanchong is so traditional, people’s religious beliefs influence a lot of what goes on. Almost every day I see someone burning hell money in an urn or setting up a table of offerings to the gods outside their home or business. My own workplace does the same twice a month – I’m not sure how they determine which days are auspicious or require atonement, but incense and gifts of food are set out at regular intervals. Then there are the miaohui – maybe translated to temple fair in English or, as I prefer to call them, god parades. At least every other week one of these shows come roaring through my hood, showcasing the gods themselves in idol form, temple dancers, various statuary, mediums that perform intercessions for residents, and a ton of firecrackers.

When someone dies, a procession traipses around the block too, utilizing many of the same characters as the temple parades, though usually with a decidedly worldly element – pole dancers and nightly performances for those sitting the wake. This past week someone died, and their funeral procession carried on for hours. It included some of the more beautiful temple flags I’ve seen, so I took out my camera and took some shots.

the gods are on the march.

the gods are on the march.

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my hood bout to get lit.

the gods are marching.

the gods are marching.

always lion or snake dancers in the procession.

always lion or snake dancers in the procession.

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traffic takes this parades very much in stride and just wends right through them.

traffic takes this parades very much in stride and just wends right through them.

away they go.

away they go.

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look at the temple flags. they're quite old, and have ancient drawings on them.

look at the temple flags. they’re quite old, and have ancient drawings on them.

my lovely crowded crazy neighborhood.

my lovely crowded crazy neighborhood.

At the end of May, my rugby team played the first ever game of women’s 15s in Taiwan versus a Hong Kong team. We lost, but fared quite well all things considered. We’re hosting another team from Hong Kong in August, also 15s – and now we’ve got experience!

our team. Taipei Baboons Ladies, aka Babeboons.

our team. Taipei Baboons Ladies, aka Babeboons.

with the visiting HKCC team.

with the visiting HKCC team.

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crazies.

crazies.

Mid-June was Dragon Boat Festival. My team started practicing in April, and toward the end of May we got a few really nice mornings out on the river. Race day weather, not so great. We had a four-day weekend this year, and the Taipei International Dragon Boat Championship was held over the course of three of those days… and it rained on all of them. Talk about a hard race, with pelting rain and a strong current. Still fun times, though, and a really great cultural atmosphere. We were slotted in a heat with two professional teams, and came in just six seconds behind the number two boat. Not good enough to advance, but good in the grand scheme of the heat, especially since we finished light years ahead of the final boat.

practice weather.

practice weather.

look at the sky.

look at the sky.

and race day weather. so lovely. not.

and race day weather. so lovely. not.

that's us.

that’s us.

and saluting the judges en route to the dock.

and saluting the judges en route to the dock.

weather cleared up slightly for a short minute.

weather cleared up slightly for a short minute.

I’ve been working long hours the past couple months in order to graduate my class, and finish everything that needs to be done before I leave. I will miss their graduation ceremony, which falls pretty much the same time as Tom’s wedding (with the time difference), but I still had to get them performance-ready by that time, minus the week I won’t be here. Graduating to primary school is a huge deal for children in Taiwan, which means it’s also a huge deal for their teachers. Huge deal = huge amount of work. I’ll save that rant for another post, though, and just say that I really will miss these little rugrats.

We were just told this week which classes we will teach next year. I’ll take my B3 class, the original derps who happen to by my all-time favorites, to G3 (another grad, yay!). This will be my third year with them. I’ll also take a class who is a year behind, as well as an after school primary English/science class. It’s a ton of classroom hours, but I’ll be done with teaching every night by 7pm.

my soon-to-be-graduated rugrats.

my soon-to-be-graduated rugrats.

I mean, definitely gonna miss this one.

I mean, definitely gonna miss this one.

on a trip to the zoo.

on a trip to the zoo.

when they just won't shut up.

when they just won’t shut up.

So that’s about it. A few more random scenes from my neighborhood.

taken from "my" park.

taken from “my” park.

betel nut signs cause who doesn't chew that here.

betel nut signs cause who doesn’t chew that here.

the tea guy, in his rattletrap tricycle, using old CDs as reflectors.

the tea guy, in his rattletrap tricycle, using old CDs as reflectors.

when it starts raining out of nowhere.

when it starts raining out of nowhere.

post-church lunches are always inside these days because it's way too hot for picnics in the park.

post-church lunches are always inside these days because it’s way too hot for picnics in the park.

okinawa r & r (and r)

Posted: June 6, 2016 in japan
Taiwan represent, yo!

Taiwan represent, yo!

After a weekend of rest and relaxation – and rugby – I’ve decided that Okinawa is my new vacation destination. What a gorgeous island, perfect for adventuring and chilling, and only an hour and a half flight from Taipei! This was my first time to Japan in three years, though I felt that Okinawa is really nothing like the main island. Also because I only stayed in the Naha area it felt a lot more like America than Japan to me. The small bits I saw were beautiful and welcoming, and have convinced me to return as soon as possible.🙂

My rugby team caught a Friday evening flight from Taipei to Okinawa, and by the time all we girls and guys had made it through customs and onto the bus to a taxi stand it was pretty late. A bunch of us had booked rooms in a small hotel, but when we arrived no one was at the reservation desk. A real comedy of errors ensued as we tried everything to contact the staff and get into our rooms. At one point I googled how to say manager in Japanese, and I thought we were finally getting somewhere when a local fellow jumped up to offer his assistance… by walking over to switch on the massage armchair and spreading his arms wide in welcome. When pulling the fire alarm didn’t result in anyone showing up, we decided we’d exhausted all options, and went to a have a midnight snack and then crash on teammates’ floors in other hotels. Sleepless rugby tours are a thing, and we definitely kept with that tradition.

We got up early the next morning to go play some RUGBY! You know, the reason I was even in Okinawa to begin with. Our matches were slotted to be played on base, and we were meant to be at the gates of Camp Lester at 8am to verify our presence. Our team was down several players in advance because we had been told that ROC and HK passports aren’t allowed on US military property, and those nationalities are about half our team. Those of us hailing from countries acceptable to US military review sailed through the checkpoint, slopped on sunscreen, and then slipped back out for a Starbucks run before we started warming up. We played three matches and watched the guys play their games. It was a total blast – lots of playing time and good competition, and fun times just hanging out. And the weather cooperated 110 percent with gorgeous blue skies and a breeze that took just enough edge off the heat.

babeboons. or babes. whichever you'd like:)

babeboons. or babes. whichever you’d like:)

I think this was our second match.

I think this was our second match. look at that sky.

winning the line out, losing the wedgie game.

winning the line out, losing the wedgie game.

some hard tackles vs the military team.

some hard tackles vs the military team.

pep talk.

pep talk.

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unfortunate that someone on the sidelines had a camera at this particular moment. I’m not actually strangling someone…

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nice pop pass out of a tackle.

nice pop pass out of a tackle.

with the sisters from Seoul.

with the sisters from Seoul.

While we were watching one of the guys’ matches, a group of protesters marched by in opposition of the US military presence on Okinawa. Apparently such demonstrations are common in Okinawa, which has a dozen or so American military bases. A truck with loudspeakers was blaring, “US Military out of Okinawa!” and was followed by a long line of marchers with signs. Very peaceful, and very eye-opening.

While we were watching one of the guys’ matches, a group of protesters marched by in opposition of the US military presence on Okinawa. Apparently such demonstrations are common in Okinawa, which has a dozen or so American military bases. A truck with loudspeakers was blaring, “US Military out of Okinawa!” and was followed by a long line of marchers with signs. Very peaceful, and very eye-opening.

We ladies were finished around 2pm, so I left with my friend J who’d come to watch our last match. I was already pretty tired and banged up and super hungry, but I was rejuvenated by the idea of seeing more of Okinawa than just some military camp’s rugby pitch. We headed for food straight away to a restaurant where customers push buttons on a computerized menu, and then sit down to wait for their orders. Japanese innovation for you. After a quick stop at J’s apartment to change, we ended up at the seawall with a bunch of friends, a bag full of snorkel gear and a couple paddleboards. I’d heard Okinawa has some of the best snorkeling in the world, and I was not disappointed. Underwater was a turquoise blue world filled with schools of fish and beautiful coral. I saw a blowfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and some venomous black and white snakes that I swam away from really fast! We snorkeled out to where the reef dropped off into deep water, and my friend gave me some deep diving lessons on equalizing so that my eardrums wouldn’t burst. Now I just need to work on holding my breath.

heading out for a paddle.

heading out for a paddle.

pure beauty.

pure beauty.

being a beach bum forever doesn't seem like the worst goal in life.

being a beach bum forever doesn’t seem like the worst goal in life.

...

...

I mean, imagine seeing this every night of your life.

I mean, imagine seeing this every night of your life.

After we swam back to the seawall, we paddle boarded for a little while just as the sun was going down. J swore that this was far from one of Okinawa’s best sunsets because the clouds had come in, but I thought it was pretty darn gorgeous. We went back to get washed up, as we both had social engagements that night. I hitched a ride over to my rugby social, where I found all the teams who’d played in the tournament that day, including my own Babes who had done some excellent work on their tour outfits. I’ll just say that the tour theme was “jorts” and leave it at that. And this is the only picture of the evening I’m willing to provide… without my jorts.

at least I'm wearing my NJ shirt.

at least I’m wearing my NJ shirt.

I’d love to say I woke up early and gung-ho for touring the island the next morning, but it’d been a late social night, and I was both exhausted and in some serious pain. J suggested a chill morning complete with an all-American breakfast. Sold. We went onto Kadena Air Base, and after stopping to get me registered for a pass, I got a whirlwind tour. I was essentially back on American soil for an hour, which was cool and all, but mostly really strange. Here I was in Japan standing in the cereal aisle of an American base supermarket like, what even IS all this stuff? We swung through a gas station and paid in American dollars, and I realized I was getting some serious reverse culture shock vibes while still half a world away from home. Don’t even get me started on the home-cooked bacon and eggs breakfast and the fact that I was heading back to Taipei with graham crackers and Reese’s cups in my bag.

view from J's apartment. most of the American village all the way out to the sea.

View from J’s apartment. His rank allows him a sweet place off base. You can see most of the American village all the way out to the sea.

BREAKFAST. I hadn't eaten real American bacon in almost 18 months, so you know that pile disappeared haha.

BREAKFAST. I hadn’t eaten real American bacon in almost 18 months, so you know that pile disappeared haha.

just another morning in beautiful Okinawa.

just another morning in beautiful Okinawa.

J was on duty that afternoon, so after brunch I said goodbye to the American Village and hopped a bus south to Naha, where I spent a few hours touring the city and visiting Shuri-jo. I ran into a few guys from the squad there, so we headed together directly to the airport to catch our flight. The natural thing was to head for international departures, but none of us had been paying enough attention when we arrived on Friday to remember now that we needed to be at the LCC terminal, since we were flying on the cheap with Peach Air. That required us to walk all the way to domestics and catch a bus to the proper departure area. Fun times.

Shuri-jo in Naha city.

Shuri-jo in Naha city.

gate guard.

gate guard.

view of Naha from atop an old castle.

view of Naha from atop an old castle.

Naha has a sweet monorail that I took up to the castle. The views all along the way were stunning.

Naha has a sweet monorail that I took up to the castle. The views all along the way were stunning.

I totally love the train guys in Japan. They have amazing uniforms and take their jobs so seriously.

I totally love the train guys in Japan. They have amazing uniforms and take their jobs so seriously.

probably the nicest airfield picture I've ever taken en route to boarding.

probably the nicest airfield picture I’ve ever taken en route to boarding.

I’m planning another trip to Okinawa this autumn, and I hope to get farther north, and also do a lot more snorkeling and some hiking and cycling. I didn’t visit any of the war memorials because I didn’t want to rush through, so that’s on the list as well. I want to get more of a feel for Okinawan culture… not that I’d say no to another weekend with a decidedly American feel, either.🙂

a few days after I returned to Taipei I was sporting my typical post-match bruises.

a few days after I returned to Taipei I was sporting my typical post-match bruises.

hong kong again, mostly photos

Posted: June 6, 2016 in hong kong

When I flew into Hong Kong on Saturday morning I was in a terrible mood. I wasn’t keen on spending the next four days there when I had so much going on back in Taipei. But such is life, and Hong Kong is, after all, one of my very favorite cities in the world. Within an hour of landing I was gung-ho to hit the streets and get lost in the energetic vibe of the city. I did a tango with the Chinese Embassy, checked into my hotel, and then my camera and I switched to full wanderer mode, seeing places I’d been a dozen times before and stumbling onto some completely new scenes.

the Peak on Sunday afternoon. I could come up here every day and never tire of this view.

the Peak on Sunday afternoon. I could come up here every day and never tire of this view.

neon HK.

neon HK.

I could spend forever looking at this skyline.

I could spend forever looking at this skyline.

dim dim sum resto.

dim dim sum resto.

Hong Kong is the perfect city for an aimless ramble filled with wrong turns; new discoveries wait around every corner, there are stunning views from pretty much anywhere, and the people-watching is set for primetime. No matter how many times I go up the Peak or stroll along the TST I think how lucky I am to be staring at the most gorgeous skyline on earth yet again. I could easily spend days wandering around this city without getting bored.

I tried finding a church up in mid-levels on Sunday morning and ended up having my own personal service as I followed Kennedy Road in the wrong direction for a solid hour… maybe cabbing it actually is the better option from time to time. But I love all the old-school public transit option. Trams and ferries are slow-paced and cheap and the perfect way to take in Hong Kong’s daily life. I had a couple good hikes, ate too much dim sum, and even did some shopping. Ha, I was looking for a dress for Tom’s wedding, but I actually bought a new mouthguard and some sweet kicks. And, because I actually did have work to finish, I spent an entire afternoon in the Central Public Library.

Most of my time rambling was spent working the settings on my new camera. I’ve been meaning to figure it out for a while now, and an extended weekend in Hong Kong gave me the perfect opportunity. Enjoy!

Saturday night on the TST.

Saturday night on the TST.

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HK's night lights never grow old, either.

HK’s night lights never grow old, either.

night photography.

night photography.

IMG_0348

beautiful Hong Kong.

one of those old junks that roam Victoria Harbor.

one of those old junks that roam Victoria Harbor.

I probably spent a solid two hours taking in this view.

I probably spent a solid two hours taking in this view.

I love rambling through HK's back alleys. This is a small meat shop in Wan Chai.

I love rambling through HK’s back alleys. This is a small meat shop in Wan Chai.

those famous egg waffles.

those famous egg waffles.

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on Sunday afternoon my friend and I undertook the hiking trail that runs from Mid-Levels up Victoria Peak. I love this bird that flew into my shot.

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we were rewarded with some pretty dramatic skies at the top.

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dim sum in copious amounts is perfect for post-hike hunger pangs.

dim sum in copious amounts is perfect for post-hike hunger pangs.

Temple Street Night Market in HK.

Temple Street Night Market in HK.

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I’ve been here countless times, but this time my friend and I climbed to the 6th and 7th floors of a nearby parking garage to get some shots of the market from above.

pretty stunning, no?

pretty stunning, no?

night market entrance.

night market entrance.

spent a good few hours in more than one branch of both these places.

spent a good few hours in more than one branch of both these places.

little red buses of death.

little red buses of death.

finding solitude in the middle of an urban jungle.

finding solitude in the middle of an urban jungle.

nan lian garden pagoda.

nan lian garden pagoda.

HK high rises.

HK high rises.

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I fell in love with the perfect crowding and colors of this building.

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Hong Kong snack stand.

Hong Kong snack stand.

signage.

signage.

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really great library.

really great library, with tons of space to study inside.

only about half the levels. There were a lot of English books here, too. Wish Taipei had a library like this one.

only about half the levels. There were a lot of English books here, too. Wish Taipei had a library like this one.

those iconic trams, or ding-dings as they're known.

those iconic trams, or ding-dings as they’re known.

xiaolongbao lunch. :)

xiaolongbao lunch.🙂

As usual, Hong Kong ended up revitalizing me, and I was sorry to leave – especially when my carefully chosen 945pm flight didn’t back away from the gate until 1037. The last twenty minutes into Taipei was directly through a lightning storm, which was terrifyingly cool until it turned out that meant circling over Taoyuan Airport for another forty minutes until we were cleared to land. I didn’t hit my apartment until 2am. Luckily, I had less than three days back at the grind before turning around and heading straight back to the airport to catch a flight to Okinawa. Stay tuned.🙂

mad in the mud

Posted: April 17, 2016 in life in taiwan

Yesterday’s rugby practice. It’s been raining since New Year’s, give or a take a few sunny days here and there. Mudbath, anyone?

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babeboons🙂

our photographer captured my exact look. pretty impressive.

our photographer captured my exact look. pretty impressive.

playing sevens with a guy's uni team for friendly practice.

babes playing sevens with a guy’s uni team for friendly practice.

tough ladies. and a few dudes.

tough ladies. and a few dudes.

of rice and of zen

Posted: April 17, 2016 in taiwan travel

Somewhere about halfway down Taiwan’s East Rift Valley, I realized that I was on my fourth cup of coffee in half that number of hours, and still had a long day of riding ahead of me. Like most travelers in this country, I was in awe of 7-11, a literal land of milk and honey (and caffeine) found in just about every tiny village located up and down Taiwan. Seven, as it’s known in both English and Chinese, offers water, coffee, snackage, bathrooms, wifi and anything else I might possibly need while roadtripping around the island.

a traveler's best friend in Taiwan.

a traveler’s best friend in Taiwan.

This past weekend was the Chinese Qingming Festival, a public four-day holiday. I decided to head down south for a few days and drive some of my favorite roads. Buying train tickets during a holiday weekend is never easy, but I somehow ended up getting a seat for the exact train I wanted. 11:30pm on Saturday may not seem the most ideal time, but it let me hit up rugby practice and have dinner with a friend that day before I headed to Taipei Main Station to catch my train. As it was a slow train, I had a solid 6 hours of sleep aboard before pulling into Taitung Station just before 6am the following morning.

I walked to a rental shop across the road from the station, flashed my Taiwan license, and had a scooter for the next two days just like that. I’ve been to Taitung several times in the past, and it’s a great place for a vacation. For the largest city on Taiwan’s southeastern coast, it’s pretty small and completely laid-back, but you definitely need wheels to get around. I grabbed coffee and zoomed over to one of Taitung’s seaside parks where I spent an hour staring at the Pacific and face-timing the twin.

After that it was a straight shot up Highway 11 to Hualien, a good 170 kilometers or so. The 11 is a beautiful road, as it runs right next to the ocean and passes through countless small towns, many of them aboriginal. The perfect route for a day of exploring and relaxing. I’ve ridden the length of Highway 11 on a bicycle before, but that trip was in the fall. It was nice to ride the road in the springtime – and on a scooter!

Taidong's coast along the Pacific.

Taidong’s coast along the Pacific.

I love passing through tiny small towns along highway.

I love passing through tiny small towns along highway.

in Dulan, a funky roadhouse cafe. Can you spot the 7-11?

in Dulan, a funky roadhouse cafe. Can you spot the 7-11?

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roadhouse cafe, and next to it a betel nut shop.

About sixty kilometers up from Taitung City I reached Sanxiantai, a national scenic area full of unique rock formations and an even more unique eight-arched bridge heading out to the Terrace of the Three Immortals. The bridge looks like ocean waves or a sea dragon’s back, depending on your perspective. I spent a good two hours hiking around the island and hanging out on the rocks.

Sanxiantai.

Sanxiantai.

the coastline near the national park.

coastline near the national park.

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the water here is very blue and clear.

the water here is very blue and clear.

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pools of water from the retreating tide.

pools of water from the retreating tide.

my favorite: a panorama of the whole area.

my favorite: a panorama of the whole area.

the famed rock beach.

the famed rock beach.

I reached Hualien City around 2 in the afternoon, after a leisurely drive along the coast. Highway 11 is set with the Pacific on one side and huge mountain ranges on the other, but in many places there are fields of crops between the road and the mountain – and sometimes between the road and the ocean, too. I saw pineapples, sunflowers, and dragon fruit, but most of the fields were rice. Every so often a graveyard appeared in the most prime locations, and because this was Tomb Sweeping weekend there were hundreds of people in each cemetery to clean the graves and pay respect to their ancestors.

for a stretch of about a kilometer, there were fields and fields of sunflowers along the road.

for a stretch of about a kilometer, there were fields and fields of sunflowers along the road.

have you ever seen rice growing right beside the ocean?

have you ever seen rice growing right beside the ocean?

one of many cemeteries - in Tawian, the dead are buried in prime locations so they can enjoy nice views in the afterlife.

one of many cemeteries – in Tawian, the dead are buried in prime locations so they can enjoy nice views in the afterlife.

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rice fields.

rice fields.

a unique church in a small town.

a unique church in a small town.

passed by a small fishing village as I neared Hualien.

passed by a small fishing village as I neared Hualien.

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another graveyard, this one nestled among the rice fields.

another graveyard, this one nestled among the rice fields.

you can see the yellow hell money scattered over the grave. As it was Tomb Sweeping weekend, people left their ancestors with plenty to get by on in the coming year.

you can see the yellow hell money scattered over the grave. As it was Tomb Sweeping weekend, people left their ancestors with plenty to get by on in the coming year.

more tombs.

more tombs.

When I arrived in Hualien I went straight to the beach, but within an hour the sun had disappeared and the sky became pitch black. I left to hit up my favorite wonton shop and check into my hostel. I felt a little bad crawling into bed at 7pm instead of going out, but I’ve been to Hualien a million times and I was tired. Besides, waking up at 4am the next morning meant I got halfway down Highway 9 before the sun came up🙂

Highway 9 runs from Hualien City down Taiwan’s East Rift Valley and back out to the coast in Taitung City before continuing south. I only needed to make it about 180 kilometers between Hualien and Taitung, and by 6am I found myself in a 7-11 along the highway on my fourth cup of coffee.

first glimpse of the sun from the side of the road.

first glimpse of the sun from the side of the road.

almost immediately after ran into some serious fog.

almost immediately after ran into some serious fog.

Rice fields pretty much the whole route. Beautiful to drive through in the early morning light.

Rice fields pretty much the whole route. Beautiful to drive through in the early morning light.

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my favorite bridge of the trip.

my favorite bridge of the trip.

An hour later I’d made it all the way to Chishang, a tiny little village in Taidong County famed for its stunning rice fields and delicious lunch boxes. Last time I was in Chishang was autumn, and the rice fields were golden yellow; now they were green and growing. I grabbed breakfast and strolled around town for an hour – also skyped with the family from the middle of a rice field.

little temple in Chishang.

little temple in Chishang.

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breakfast shop.

breakfast shop.

Chishang's most famous road.

Chishang’s most famous road.

After that it was a straight shot down Highway 9 to downtown Taidong. I went straight to the train station to buy a ticket and lucked out in a big way – I thought I’d get stuck with a standing ticket at midnight, but somehow I landed a seat on the 2pm train back to Taipei. And it was the fast train, so I’d be back in Taipei by 6pm! I called up my friend Julia who was also in Taidong, and we met up and chilled at the beach for a couple of hours. Then I returned my bike to the shop, hit up 7-11 for another coffee and slept all the way back to Taipei.

parking lot, Taiwan style.

parking lot, Taiwan style.

das scoot

Posted: April 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

Here are a few pictures from my daily commute in Taipei. The flow of traffic here is different than most other places in the world. Motorbikes wend their way between cars, jockeying for position in specially marked boxes at the head of the traffic queue. At every stoplight a swarm of scooters forms ahead of cars, trucks, and buses, and the sound of revving engines grows louder as the light counts down to green. Then a stream of motorbikes shoots down the road until they catch up to traffic and the next red light.

the scooter lane off of Taipei bridge.

the scooter lane off of Taipei bridge.

kind of beautiful.

kind of beautiful.

a never-ending stream of bikes flows down this ramp at rush hour.

a never-ending stream of bikes flows down this ramp at rush hour.

With some 15 million bikes for a country densely populated with 23 million people, this sort of craziness is a common sight.

Also crazy of late: my life. These past couple months have been a consistent routine of 50-hour workweeks, interrupted by church, language exchange, community group, rugby practice, volunteering, and friends. Being busy is a good way to ward off homesickness, though recently I find myself becoming more and more anxious for that next long haul back to the states. Just three months to go, now!

And they’ll be a busy three months, for sure. Graduation season is upon us already, in terms of workload, though the actual event isn’t for several months – these are the days when I seriously question my career path. I have replaced my passport and bank cards, and the process to get my Taiwan ID and health insurance is underway. I’ll go to Hong Kong for four days soon to replace my Chinese visa.

My rugby team is also meant to travel south to Kaohsiung for a sevens tournament the end of April, and then we have a tournament in Okinawa the second week of May. We also have a game against Hong Kong the last weekend in May. So lots of travel and competition coming up, including… drumroll… dragon boat. Practice has begun, which means I’m extra tired and sore every weekend.

I am trying hard to catch up on posts from past trips and adventure, so stay tuned for a flood of blog posts. Fingers crossed.