Monday, November 28, 2011

postage stamps ------> bucket list

So in one of the English learning magazines that my students use I saw an ad about Taiwan travel stamps. I was super excited to purchase them because not only did they give me an idea about what I should be visiting but also to send with my postcards to America.

taiwan travel stamps
They sell them in denominations of $5 and $3.50 NT. I don't get why people would use boring stamps if the pretty looking ones are the same price. The locations of these stamps have become a small bucket list of places I want to see in Taiwan. I bought a sheet of $5 and a sheet of $3.50. I didn't think each sheet had two sets so now an abundance of postage stamps. I plan to use the $3.50 set as embellishments in my scrapbooking and travel album. The $5 will going to peoples soon :P

Starting from the top left hand corner...
1. The National Palace Museum
2. The Taipei 101
3. Sun Moon Lake
4. Yushan (The Jade Mountain)
5. Alishan

The second row starting from the left...
6. Love River in Kaohsiung
7. Kenting
8. The Liushidan Mountain
9. The Taroko National Park
10. Jiufen

For descriptions of the locations in the stamps check out the Taiwan Postal Office website.

I'm gonna cross off the places I've been to as I visit them. So sad that I've only been to one of the places mentioned on this list. Hopefully I'll be able to hit up all these locations during my stay in Taiwan. Really doubtful about me visiting those mountains....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

finally updating my travel album...

Back in August I mentioned that I would be keeping up a travel album to go along with my travels. Although I do update it whenever I go somewhere, it is quite different from what I had in mind. It has now become the place where I stick any cards or brochures from my traveling destinations and has become quite thick because of it...

travel album
I've gone through less than 1/10th of the book and its already too big to close fully. As anyone who has ever traveled with me, you would know that I am super obsessed with collecting brochures and maps of the place I visit. The first thing I do is seek the information desk or center to collect brochures. Here in Taiwan I grab every brochure and map in English because with the way they distribute the information you won't be sure that you'll get that area specific brochure at that location. This way I also know what to visit while I'm here. Because the book is so bulky I don't bring it with me because it's so heavy. This really defeated the idea I had with bringing this book with me everywhere and scrapping as I travel. Rarely do I have time to sit there and stick pictures and such in here while I'm outside. I don't know why but I had this image of me sitting in some cafe watching life pass as I did this. Lol. Most times I'm just running around trying to cram as much as I can in the day before the sun sets, which I feel is so early here around 5-6pm. This also defeated the dream of having this album with me so that if I ran into any Taiwanese celebrities I could ask them for autographs and pictures...

hsinchu and taipei
See I even brought paper pockets so I had a place to stuff the brochures in. Once I get back to the states I will probably unload most of those brochures into my scrapbooking album when I make the pages for them which will probably be in 2 or 3 years. Haha.

yilan and taipei
Yes I just stick random ass cards in here telling me what I ate and stuff. Also in case I ever need to go back or because it might be info I need to blog about. The most exciting thing I've found about Taiwan is that at every tourist destination there are souvenir stamps. Whenever I see one it always kills me that I don't have any paper on me and I end up stamping all over the brochures. I totally need to be like the other people I see and have my own designated stamp book. It would be ideal if I could bring my album and stamp as I go but again too bulky to carry around for hours while walking around.

taipei stamps
kaohsiung stamps
Practically every place has a stamp. If you can't see one you just need to ask or show them what you mean and they will bring you to the place to stamp it. Some of them are located in obscure places. Even the MRT and train stations have the stamps! Haha I go crazy trying to hunt them down. Usually I'm the only one whose stamping my paper, either that or little children are competing with me. I use my longer arms to my advantage. Haha suckers.

kaohsiung
Kaohsiung even had its own sheet for you to collect the stamps. I was sad to say I only got two out of all the ones offered in Kaohsiung. Sometimes the stamps are so random and has nothing to do with the location but it's still nice to be able to carry a small souvenir of the place with me. I think we are suppose to maybe stamp postcards or something with them since when you buy postcards the stores offer you stamps to stamp your postcard with. Sorry I don't write my postcards until I'm home... So this is just to let peoples know I'm still scrapbooking though not in the traditional sense. What with updating my blog, updating my travel album and updating people through e-mail, I write a lot about my life in Taiwan...

Friday, November 25, 2011

thanksgiving days of old...

So today is officially Thankgiving in Taiwan, well for me the day is almost over while back in the States, Thanksgiving has just started. I think for me the fact that I've never been a big fan of American holidays makes it easier for me when they occur. I've read a lot of blogs where ex-pats talk about how during the holidays, Thanksgiving or Christmas, they miss their family and all the festivities they had. Well for me, my family never really celebrated these holidays very much so I don't have much to miss. Of course when we were younger and believed in Santa, my mom would humor us with decorations and what not but not knowing the stories of Santa, she just put the presents under the fake plastic palm tree right in front of us. Bursted all the dreams and bubbles I had of Santa being real. Thanksgiving was pretty much the same, I don't think she had any idea what Thanksgiving is all about, just that we didn't have to go to school and everyone ate turkey. Our house isn't a big fan of turkey and we rarely celebrated Thanksgiving. For us it was just regular ol' Asian food and watching tv.

I do remember that my family did celebrate Thanksgiving with an actual Thanksgiving dinner twice in my life and it was with my cousin and her family. It was pretty nice because we actually had a turkey, which barely anyone touched, and a whole bunch of seafood. I feel like that is how the Cantonese celebrate holidays either with only vegetarian dishes or with copious amounts of seafood! None of the other traditional Thanksgiving dinner items made it onto our table, unless you count the instant mashed potatoes procured by my sisters.

While in college I never went back home for Thanksgiving because we would only get a 4-day weekend which wasn't long enough in my opinion to make the trip worth it to go back to San Francisco. My parents still had to work and the fact that they don't celebrate it was pretty much all the motivation I needed not to bother leaving San Diego. Pretty harsh but I was a child and enjoying the freedom college gave me. I've had some pretty interesting Thanksgiving Dinners in college tho, mostly Asian food and "home cooked" by moi.

The most memorable Thanksgiving for me would be the one I had last year in 2010. By then my sister Mal was living in Los Angeles and we decided we should surprise my parents with a visit for Thanksgiving. At this point it was almost half a year since I had seen my family which was at my graduation ceremony. We had decided to drive up because no way were we paying an arm and a leg for airplane tickets during Thanksgiving. The traffic was horrible. We literally just sat on the highway for hours and hours. Note to self, next time plan to leave earlier. So we ended up getting home really late but it was totally worth it. My mom was super excited when my sister walks into her room but she literally screamed when she saw me right behind her. My sister goes back more often than I do unlike myself the ungrateful one. I love doing surprises like this on my parents. It never gets old but now they are always suspicious. One time I was 3-way chatting with my sister and my mom on the phone and my mom was convinced we were together and heading home or some such craziness. Lol. Thanksgiving of 2010 was spent hanging with my family all day and decorating our first Christmas tree in the Lau residence. Fake tree of course. It was a whole family event, had to drag our dad out of bed and away from his tv, but we did it! Took awhile to find our old Christmas ornaments since its been such a long time since we've used them. All the handmade ones from elementary school brought back good memories and just messing around with my family was pretty awesome. 

thanksgiving 2010

family pyramid!
The family who hangs together wears sweatshirts together. After this we stayed up till 4am playing Jenga, Monopoly and of course Mahjong. Writing this post has accomplished what the holiday hasn't, making me miss my family. Must remember to Skype them later.

Thanksgiving in Taiwan is pretty much just any other school day. I'm pretty sure no one even said Happy Thanksgiving to me at work. I didn't either I totally forgot about it until the end of the night. I hope everyone is having a wonderful Thanksgiving and eating some awesome food!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

come again?

So toilet paper in Taiwan comes in square packages like tissue paper. So whenever I go shopping for toilet paper I often ask whoever is with me which one is toilet paper and which is tissue paper, since I can't distinguish all the Chinese. The answer I get back is always "There's a difference?" I just get this face like yes of course there is a difference, ones for your face and ones for your ass! Paper snob anyone? Of course here in Taiwan they use toilet paper and tissue paper interchangeably so people just think I'm wack. I could purchase "western" toilet paper but they are usually way more expensive than the "taiwanese" kind. My Asian cheapness will not allow me to choose the more expensive option! I have no problem with that since in my bathroom I don't even have a toilet paper roll holder so the tissue/toilet paper in its own individual package sits better on top of my toilet tank.

The shocker is that supposedly we aren't suppose to flush the "toilet" paper down the toilet. I mean I did notice that the paper didn't disintegrate like toilet paper in America but I didn't think you weren't suppose to flush them at all. Like no matter what... Don't flush it down the toilet! I understand throwing the "toilet" paper in the trashcan if you're just peeing and such. But what I found out from the locals here is that in ANY SCENARIO THAT CAN HAPPEN IN THE BATHROOM you throw the paper into the trash can. Then I'm just thinking how long does that toilet paper sit there before the trash gets emptied? What about the smell?? Is that why the bathrooms smell so bad? I do not want to go to the bathroom and see someones nasty, dirtied "toilet" paper in the trash can. Especially with what goes on in the women's bathroom...

So I guess Taiwanese people are taught from an early age that flushing paper down the toilet will create clogs but then I'm just wondering why don't they just create toilet paper that disintegrates? At work they even made us sign a sheet that said we wouldn't flush the paper down the toilet. I was actually super shocked that I wasn't suppose to at work. Oops.. One of my co-teachers did tell me a story about a teacher who flushed toilet paper in his house and the landlord asked him to stop since it was clogging up the pipes... Despite that I know that I won't be stopping my horrible ways. Sorry Taiwan. Sorry pipes.

As I sit here writing this, my mind just goes on all these tangents about the dirty paper in the trashcan. Like god can you imagine the germs and the bacteria?!?!? It's just so wrong. I was seriously hoping it was a unique situation when one of my TA's told me that's how it was done, like they somehow was raised in like a rural farm somewhere. But nope all the other TAs confirmed that that's how its done. So I guess the only people creating clogs and such in public areas must be all the foreigners in the area. The thing is I know there is actual toilet paper here since in all public bathrooms, well at least in the city, they have toilet paper that you flush... So why can't they just mass produce it so that the general public can buy it? Is this a thing where people don't want to have to spend money on two different types of paper and would rather just buy the big pack and use it interchangeably for ass and face? Knowing the Asian frugal-ness that is most likely the case.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

wandering around neiwan

So a couple weeks back the train from Hsinchu to Neiwan reopened. I decided that would be the perfect time to go back to Neiwan since I could ride the train and its free till the 25th. Apparently there is a station not that far from my house but when we got there, the line was super long. Everyone else also had the same idea to take advantage of the free train and to be the first ones to ride this train since it has been closed for 3 plus years. They closed it so that they could construct the line to the HSR in Jhubei. The crappy thing is that the train to Neiwan only comes every hour so even though one train can hold a lot of people causing the line to shorten dramatically, you still had to wait a hour before the next train would come. I'm not sure how many trains actually use this track maybe just one or two...

neiwan train
The train is very nicely decorated with pictures of different tourist locations in Taiwan. Will try to ride this train once before I leave Taiwan since I hear it has really pretty views. The station near my house is Zhuzhong and looks relatively new. Am saddened by the fact that if I don't line up to ride this train I won't be able to get a commemorative ticket. I want to collect it so badly!!

neiwan old movie theater
This is the old Neiwan movie theater. It was one of the only forms of entertainment for the miners that lived here back in the day. The first time I was in Neiwan I just walked through here like it was a regular old shop and didn't get why people were taking pictures in it. Then I discovered in the corner that there was an entrance to a restaurant...

movie theater turned restaurant
The movie theater is now turned into a restaurant that serves pricey Hakka food. I ducked in just long enough to take this picture. They play old Taiwanese movies on the big screen which is pretty cool. Had some time to look into foods that is famous in Neiwan. Neiwan is known for incorporating ginger flower in its food.

ginger lily rice dumplings
At this stall we bought zongzi. This zongzi is special because it is wrapped in ginger leaves which give it a special flavor.

meat zongzi wrapped in ginger leaf
wine zongzi
This stall also sold another kind of zongzi which was flavored with alcohol. Didn't try this one since you could smell the alcohol just by sniffing it. The ginger leaf zongzi was delicious and cost only $15 NT while the alcohol one cost $25 NT.

wild boar stand from the thao tribe
So at this stall the man was dressed in aboriginal clothing and was selling wild pig meat skewers. A similar stall in the Neiwan market stated that this food is from the Thao tribe which is based at Sun Moon Lake.

wild pig meat skewers
I wonder if they actually catch the wild pigs themselves. It seemed like a one man operation stall so I'm not sure how it all works out. The meat was savory and spicy. $35 NT for one skewer or three for $100 NT.

pineapple bun stall
Looking at the pictures on the stall I saw that it sold pineapple buns. I didn't get why there was a line in front of them. I was interested in eating pineapple buns since I can eat them in America. The interesting thing about these pineapple buns is that they have a variation filled with ice cream! The Taiwanese version of an ice cream sandwich! The ice cream and the pineapple bun combo is actually pretty awesome and complimented each other. Too cold for the weather tho.

pineapple bun with vanilla ice cream
a fried spring roll?
I took a bite of this and it was filled with meat. They say its a Vietnamese food. Looks like a spring roll that has been fried. Can my Vietnamese friends tell me if that is true or are the Taiwanese just mistaken?

The market in Neiwan is super big and we hadn't even walked through most of it at this point. A little pass the Neiwan train station is a underground tunnel that leads to the Liu Hsing-ching comic museum. The entrance fess costs $50 NT and includes a $50 NT voucher for the gift shop. I like how for places that you need to pay they always include some vouchers for the gift shop.

entrance to the comic museum

The comic museum runs along the other side of the Neiwan train line. Liu Hsing-ching is a famous comic strip creator and has also patented a lot of inventions. As far as I know he is the only famous person from this town. He has allowed Neiwan to use his characters so you can see the cartoon figures all around town.

chips on a stick
Chips on a stick. I think I've seen something similar in county fairs in America. They have different flavors like cheese, curry, etc depending on what you order they shake different seasoning on it. Near Neiwan is a river with several suspension bridges near it. We crossed over the Neiwan Catenary Bridge which was freaky to cross over since it swayed as we walked on it. Neiwan is also famous for having fireflies. Didn't stay long enough to see any of them but in order to reach the fields that the fireflies go to, one must cross the bridge and walk further in to see them.

neiwan catenary bridge
neiwan
I love how the village is nestled amongst the mountains. So picturesque.

rice cake with seaweed flakes
The other Thao tribe stall was selling these rice cakes in addition to the wild pig skewers. I had one bite and it was nasty. I think it had to do more with the fact that I'm not a big fan of the seaweed flakes. The rice cake part itself seemed flavorless. Would not try this ever again and was probably the one and only disappointing food choice in Neiwan.

There are a bunch of shaved ice places here. Some of them were running buy one get one free deals.

mango and strawberry shaved ice
The shaved ice was ehh. The mango one was better than the strawberry one. The mangoes seemed canned and were super sweet. The thing that makes shaved ice good is the condensed milk because it makes everything sweeter. This shaved ice is super expensive, one cost $120 NT so good thing buying one gets you a second for free.  

One of my most favorite food purchases was a bag of green mangoes covered in this sweet syrup juice.

green mangoes with syrup
I ate most of the bag before remembering to take a picture. That is how good they are! The green mangoes were sour and the syrup was sweet and together made a very good combo. A bag cost $100 NT, a little pricey but so worth it! After I finished the bag I wanted to get some more. Should have bought several bags when I was in Neiwan.


milk jello
The last food I bought was this milk jello at this little stall across from the old movie theater. The jello was pretty good and not too sweet. It has the consistency of sweet tofu but tastes like ice cream. It cost $40 NT for one little jar. Out of all the markets I've been to I would say I've had the best ones at the Neiwan market.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

teppanyaki

While my sister was in Taiwan, one of my co-teachers treated her to some teppanyaki. I had no idea what teppanyaki was but my sister was raving about how good it was. Had the chance to eat at a teppanyaki place near my house this past weekend. Teppanyaki is a form of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook the food. When I went to the restaurant I realize that was the cooking style Benihana in America uses, except they do a lot of fancy tricks and stuff.  I've never had Benihana because I always thought it was too expensive so its nice to be in Taiwan and have access to the cheaper variations.

teppanyaki
I ordered a set that included pork with garlic, fish and shrimp. Each set includes soup, rice, salad, cooked veggies, dessert and drinks. Mine cost $299 NT and is on the higher spectrum of Taiwanese food costs.
pork with garlic and veggies in the background
The biggest portion of meat was the pork with garlic but in my opinion that was the most disappointing of them all. The dish was alright but there was nothing that stood out about it.

fish and shrimp
The main reason I ordered this set was for the shrimp. I really didn't want the fish since I didn't know how it would turn out or what kind of fish they would use. However I was glad I got this set because the fish and the shrimp was delicious. The chef sprinkled pepper and squeezed some lime over the fish and the shrimp. The fish was super tender and flavorful. Towards the end of the meal in addition to the cooked cabbage, the chef also dumped a huge portion of bean sprouts to our plates. This set had too much food. Next time I would order a smaller set with just the fish instead of having a combo of three. I like how even though this meal was super expensive it included all these other things and is still way cheaper than teppanyaki at Benihanas.

The Details
Wey Tyan Teppan-yaki
No. 29 Jin-Shan Street, Hsinchu
tel: (03) 5786538 
M-S 11:00-14:00,17:00-22:00

sprucing it up!!

Finally had the chance to do a little scrapping while in Taiwan. The director of my school gave me a mini calender planner. Well free stuff are usually pretty tacky because of the advertisements all over it so I decided to spruce it up with some of my scrapbooking supplies.

ugly calender
in the process
My lovely sister had bought me several rolls of washi tape while she was in Japan. Washi is a type of paper and in its tape form its thin and super easy to just rip and stick. The advantage is that if you misplace it you can easily pull it up again. Washi tape is really in right now amongst paper crafters. You can achieve the same look with adhesive ribbon or other kinds of decorated tape.  

end result
Ended up sticking random stickers and tabs on the front to make it more interesting. The washi tape is so thin that parts of the old cover is still visible through the tape. I liked that look or I could have added several layers of tape to mask it. Now you guys can re-purpose those tacky advertisement notebooks and binders and use them instead of throwing it away!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

17km coastline scenic area

The next location we checked out was the 17km Coastline Scenic Area which spans from Nanliao all the way to Nanking. We stayed in the small area around Nanliao Harbor, at one end of the 17km Coastline, which is also where the Tourist Information Center is at. The Nanliao Harbor was constructed in the early 80's for fisherman. However due to decreasing fish loads, the city decided to turn the focus from fishing to tourism instead. I still saw people fishing here in the polluted waters...

Nanliao Harbor
In the distance you can see some buildings whose colors remind me of Greece. No idea what the buildings are for since we just walked right past. There was a bathroom I believe and maybe some offices? I was distracted by the fact that some Taiwanese people were asking some foreigners if they could take pictures with them. I don't get the fascination people have here with taking pictures with foreigners. What are you going to do with the pictures later? Just show people look I saw some foreigners, here is proof!

i'm at the end of the rainbow so where is my pot of gold?
This rainbow arch is over the gate that keeps the water in the above picture from flowing away. This allows for a miniature lake to occur where the fisherman can fish. The other side of the pretty lake above isn't as nice...

the beach?
a close up
I've never seen a beach that looks like this. There is construction happening in the background. Have no idea what they are trying to build over there right next to the beach. Also have never seen the water level so low before. Doesn't even look like it is the ocean.... This place use to be super polluted until the city started cleaning it up to make it tourist friendly. Looking at this I can imagine how dirty it must have been.

Continuing around the lake we hit a large grassy area where tons of people were flying kites! I was expecting some regular old kites on strings. It took me awhile before I found any of those. A lot of the people had some crazy ones where the strings looked more like wires and their kites made a swish swish sound because they were going so fast and seemed almost like they were remote controlled with they way they flew around and around. Ideal place to fly a kite since the wind is so strong here. Couldn't keep the hair out of my face. Times like these is when I appreciate having short hair, long hair and strong wind equals being constantly whipped in the face with your hair and that hurts!

kites!
Continue walking and you'll pass by a wharf with tons of little boats tied to it. Passing that we ended up at a dead end.

a painted wall
There is a wooden ladder that allows you to climb up on the wall. Another one on the other side lets you access the beach. The beach this side is way better than the one next to all that construction.

beach
Never seen black sand before. The water is so far back it doesn't even look like a beach. When its low tide it really does go super far away. The darker part of the beach shows you how close the water usually comes in during high tide. The view from the wall was pretty amazing. Definitely a pretty place to bring a date. Nearby is also a big building that hosts a seafood market and seafood restaurants. There was also a small night market in front of the building. Opted to go for Korean BBQ instead. I actually just wanted some barbeque pork but I was misunderstood so Taiwanese version of Korean BBQ it is.

a korean bbq hotpot?
I looked at this and was like wtf?!? So the center is a hot plate kind of deal and not actually a grill where you can cook the meat. Surrounding that is circle of water. Just imagine like a castle with a moat. The veggies are cooked in the water while the meat is cooked on the raised hot plate area. The pork wasn't marinated in the delicious spicy sauce that every Korean restaurant I've been to has! I had to make my own impromptu sauce with what they provided. Spicy but nowhere close to the yumminess I've gotten in the states. At hotpot places the water is usually a broth to cook the veggies and meat but this was just regular water so I had to dip the veggies and the meat in the sauce to get any flavor. This place was located in the food court at the top of the Mega Mall. Didn't even know they had a food court! I haven't been to a Korean BBQ restaurant yet so I'm not sure if this is how its done everywhere in Taiwan or only because of the limited space at a food court restaurant. Still hankering for some Korean BBQ Pork!

The Details
17km Coastline Scenic Area
From Hsinchu Railway take bus #15; final stop is the Harbor
Cost: $15 NT

Monday, November 14, 2011

hsinchu city glass museum

Sunday, after checking out Neiwan, I was able to explore more of Hsinchu County. Most times when I'm downtown and given a ride home I pass by this castle thing. I never knew what it was but it's located near a pretty little lake. Well this time we actually got to stop and check it out.

a fancy castle clock
Right in front of this castle was an awesome metal Cinderella carriage.

cinderella carriage sculpture
The Hsinchu City Glass Museum wasn't very big and didn't allow any pictures to be taken. No clue why I went and checked out this Glass Museum and had no interest in checking out the Glass Museum in Murano, Italy where glass making is famous. The pieces themselves weren't very interesting besides a handful of them. The most interesting thing was reading the English and Chinese names for the pieces and seeing if they matched each other. We would see a piece that was called Vase in English but then had a 6 character Chinese name so obviously it wasn't translated fully. Then there were names with the words kraken or metamorphosis and it was cool discussing what those words were in Chinese. Was able to take one picture all illegally while in the museum...

a glass prison
Grabbed some lunch to eat at our next location. Went to a "famous" place known for its steamed heimao baos. Again who knows how famous places really are in Taiwan. Seems like every other stall is famous for something or other.

famous heimao bao place
history behind the heimao baos
The history behind the heimao bao. Heimao actually means black cat. Lol maybe that is the reason for the black cat symbol on the banner. Why would they call beautiful guys and girls heimao? Seems more of an insult than anything.

heimao bao
The heimao bao was super delicious. The meat was tender and was so juicy. Wished we had ordered more than one for lunch.

To go with the bao we grabbed some pearl milk tea from Ching Shin which is a drink shop chain where I got my winter melon with lemon tea previously. Never knew they sold milk tea. Theirs was good and sugary. More expensive at $40 NT but also in a bigger cup.

pearl milk tea
The Details
Hsinchu City Glass Museum
No.2, Sec.1, Dongda Road, Hsinchu City
Tuesday to Sunday 09:00-17:00
Ticket Price $20 NT

Heimao Bao Place
At the corner of Beimen and Minfu St. in downtown Hsinchu
1 bao = $20 NT