Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Symbols & Ordering Food in Taipei

A typical day ordering food in Taipei... Most of the Taiwanese restaurants you will visit are simple with small wooden tables with a menu much like the one above.  You sit down and check off what you would like.  After ordering, there is usually a small container with tea to pour yourself.  Usually your food is brought to you within minutes of ordering.

So you then sit, pick up your chopsticks, and enjoy. 

I have had people point out which symbols mean what and can now identify the one for noodle soup and dumplings! 

The beef noodle soup is the one check off on the menu above.  Typically you find dumplings at the top, because, obviously they are the best.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rats in Taipei!

I walked into the school that I am substituting for today.  It was early and I was just starting to wake up.  The teachers room is in the basement.  I walked through it while the lights flickered on.  I must be the first one here I thought.  I placed my belongings on my desk and started to prepare for the lesson, slowly waking up, and taking small sips of coffee.  I decided that an art project would be fun for the kindergarteners, and walked over to the book shelf to choose an activity.  The lights were still flickering a bit in the room and one of them was making some weird squeaky noise.  I looked up and the light looked fine.  I looked down and there was a RAT!!!!!!!!!!

"AHHHHHHHHH AHHH AHHH AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Was pretty much my reaction to the half dead, creepy animal laying on the poison trap.  It was one of those blood curdling screams that you see in the movies.  Something I have never heard come out of my mouth.  EVER.  I had no idea my vocal cords could reach such a high pitch.  

Flustered and wiggling my body around like there were all sorts of creepy crawlies on me; I ran upstairs to tell the my Taiwanese co-workers about the disgusting intruder.  A woman at the front desk bravely walked down to the dungeon with me.  We were walking down the hall when she started to freak out and do a similar creeped-out-girl-wiggle-and-shake, with the same blood curdling scream escaping her.  Because of the language barrier, she did not know that the rat was half dead and I imagine she was thinking that it could jump out at her at any moment.  

After she saw the rat she had the cleaning lady take care of it.  Thank god for that lady, because that was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life thus far.  Its not that I have never seen a rat.  I have seen them in Texas and most definitely in Chicago, when I lived in Old Town.  There is just something about it being in the same room as you, and it was literally one foot away from my big toe.  

I felt that the whole day would feel funky, until I walked into the classroom to here "Good morning Miss Helen!  How are you today?"  The kids are so cute and love me so much after only 3 days of teaching.  

Now I know when I walk into that basement to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  I have lived to tell the tale. 

 Here is to another day in Taipei!   I am off to find a whiskey bar to calm my nerves!

If only the rats here could be more civilized...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Taroko Gorge

 Considered one of Asia's 7 wonders; Taroko Gorge is something to see. Its a day trip from Taipei, and when Kathleen and her brother were here, we decided to check it out.  

It can be a 2 - 3 hour train ride depending on what train you take.  If you opt for the express train, I recommend buying your ticket in advance, even if its on a weekday.  

I also recommend Taroko Gorge via scooter.  We rented scooters for 400 NT ($12.50) for the day, and could not have asked for a better way to experience/view the gorge.   Kathleen, Timmy, and I took the train from Taipei Main station to Hsincheng Station, walked out, and rented our mighty steeds.  To rent a scooter, you need your driver's license and passport.  Kathleen was sans license, so she rode around with Timmy for the day.  

We drove alone down the road leading to the mouth of Taroko National Park.  Two bad-ass, Transformer-like scooters cutting though the soft summer rain.  The gorge and green mountains hugging us on either side.  The tallest peaks in taiwan, reaching up to 3,400 meters, holding us closely, and keeping us deliriously hot and sticky.  As the day grew on,  the clouds began to fall, cooling us off.  We were driving through clouds, our sound track: the sounds of nature buzzing, chirping, and growling around us.  

The whole day was spent exploring.  Pulling over and getting off our bikes in any direction we pleased. Through the marble-walled gorge, through the tunnel of nine turns, along the Shakadang River, and past the Eternal Spring Shrine.  It was breathtaking.  

I felt like I was on Pandora in Avatar, which is appropriate since James Cameron was inspired by a similar mountain formation in the Zhangjiajie, Hunan province in China.  Later, the peak was renamed the Avatar Halleluja Mountain after the film. 

Most of the hiking trails require permits, which we were unaware of.  After this adventure, I plan on returning with a hiking permit in hand, buying a scooter in Taipei, and running the Taroko Gorge Marathon September 15th.  It's the only marathon through a gorge in the entire world!

This lovely gentleman helped us figure out how to buy our train tickets back to Taipei.  People are so nice here.  
Excited to get on our scooters!

View while eating some weird Taiwanese lunch. 

The Liwu River water cuts through the center of the gorge,  creating valleys and ravines through the milky, marble rockface. 

Muddy part of Shakadang River

There were lots of cool, cave-like tunnels to scoot through.

Beautiful, Taiwanese Mountains.

Toad Rock.... The crown on the top is an orchid garden on his head.

Pristine, old church on our hike.  There were many churches, one of the most famous hostels around is called the Catholic Church hostel.   I hear its not too comfortable though, my friend's pillow was made of rice. 

Temple and Statue

This was the biggest snail I have ever seen! 

Leen and Timmy... This doesn't even give the gorge justice.  It is so tall.

Map of the Gorge

Eternal Springs Shrine

Preach it, Khalil.

"You are far, far greater than you know, and all is well." - Khalil Gibran

A favorite painting, by my dear friend, Abbey Golden

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Taipei Zoo: Where the Wild Things Are

On Saturday morning I was set to work very early after a flatmates going away party the night before.  I woke up with a pounding headache, stepped lightly over the drunken ex-pats strewn about my apartment, and fearlessly taught a class of teens.  I left feeling pleased, and jumped onto the bus, which of course, turned out to be the wrong bus.  This happens so often that I decided to go with it... I will get lost and end up somewhere that I am supposed to be.  I was really too tired to fight it and was not looking forward to going back to a trashed apartment.  So I looked out the window, waited, and found myself at the ZOO! 

I had heard wonderful things and it was right in front of me so I pushed passed my exhaustion.  Usually, I find zoo's depressing, but I had been told the Taipei Zoo was something special.  At first sight I could see it was true; a magical, wild oasis nestled in the steamy green mountains surrounding Taipei at the end of the Brown Line on the MRT.  

This zoo was like no other zoo I had ever been to.   This was a happy zoo, with happy animals.  Their habitats were large and the animals were active.  I sat and watched an otter swim about for a good half hour and just smiled.  She looked so happy twirling and somersaulting through the water.  I watched the beastly hippos gnash their terrible teeth and caught two camels stealing a kiss.  

 Not only were the animals beautiful, the foliage was absolutely breathtaking.  Their were orchids, bromeliads, water lilies; a cornucopia of tropical plants drawing you deeper into this breathtaking jungle atmosphere. 

Tortuga stowed away in my purse and we ran into a wise old friend of his named Lan Lou!  Of course I had to take a picture. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Earthquake in Taiwan!

This past week, one of my very best friends from Chicago came to visit me.  She had been traveling around Asia and before coming to Taiwan, had visited Hong Kong, Bali, and Singapore.  Taiwan was the last (and best) leg of her journey.  We explored Taipei, ate lots of dumplings, and drank A LOT.  Typical of a vacation spent with Kathleen!  After 5 days of solid partying and laughing so hard for hours and hours on end, we knew although our battered bodies tried to tells us to stop, we had to keep going and cherish the time we had together. 

Our last night was Saturday, and my body was beginning to hate me.  She was to take off at 7 a.m., so we stayed up until around 5 when she had to jump in a cab to Hong Kong for a connecting flight to Chicago.  A journey through Sunday, to be up and ready for the real world on Monday.  God bless her, I bet she is struggling at work right now. 

When I got back to my apartment, I lay in my bed, sad to see my friend off, but ready to get back to reality... And that’s when it hit.  This surreal feeling that everything around me was moving: my walls, my jewelry dangling from their holders, my plants and everything around me.  In fact, I was shaking and grumbling along with them, and without consent. 

This must be an earthquake, I thought.   It was not as scary as I would have imagined, but this could be because it was 5 a.m., I was a few sheets to the wind, and exhausted. 

I was more intrigued than terrified, because this was my first earthquake. 

According to Taipei Times, it was a strong, deep earthquake that struck 70.2 km southeast of Yilan County, where I hiked Camel Back Mountain.   The magnitude was a 6.5.  

Although, I was not terrified, it is a bit scary to think that the world can just move around you without any apparent warning. 


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Potty Talk: Taiwan

When first arriving in Taiwan, I was surprised to see that their version of the toilet was far different from those in the Western hemisphere.  Aside from the water flushing counter-clockwise instead of clockwise, many of the toilets are simply holes in the ground.  

These toilets are squatting toilets.  

At first I was terrified.  "AWW HELL NO!"  I thought in my head.  

Since that fateful day a month ago, I have began to embrace these toilets as my own.  There are more western style toilets around, and in my apartment, thank god, but these toilets... they are not that bad once you get the hang of them.  A few friends I have made actually began to prefer them, as they are slightly more hygienic, but I don't want to get into the details of something so un lady-like here or anywhere for that matter.  So I will just leave it to the pictures to weave the tale...

I really enjoy the caution tape upon entering
The squatting toilet!